Benjamin Britten (1913-76) was one of the most precocious of all composers who have the term child prodigy attached to them. Britten showed a keen interest in music from a very early age – both as a pianist and composer. He would become a formidable pianist, but as remarkable as his early compositions are (he had composed 6 string quartets by the age of 12!), very few people, including Frank Bridge could predict that he would become the 20th centuries greatest opera composers. In this 2CD set the early Simple Symphony is heard in the composer’s arrangement for quartet. It is based on early works, including his 9th piano sonata of 1926, and the 3rd suite for piano of 1925 – both composed when Britten was just 12 years old.
Britten composed three mature quartets spanning his creative life, and one unnumbered work dating from 1931. Britten returned to this student work in 1971 whist recovering from a heart operation, and revised it for performance at the 1975 Aldeburgh Festival. The 1st quartet dates from 1941, the 2nd from 1945 and was premiered on the actual day that Purcell died some 250 years earlier, and was Britten’s second contribution to the Purcell Anniversary, after The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. It’s a powerful work reflecting the composer’s shock at seeing first hand the concentration camps after the fall of the Nazis. Britten toured Germany with Yehudi Menuhin and what he saw left a lasting impression on him.
The 3rd quartet is from 1975/6, and was premiered two weeks after his death – the quartet uses fragments of his last opera Death in Venice in the last movement.
- "In Op. 25 tempos are well judged, for even though the Andante calmo is on the slow side of crotchet = 60, its inspired expressiveness is enhanced, not overdone. The other movements are brilliantly incisive and excellently balanced. In particular, the great first movement sounds much more radical than usual, simply because the players pay scrupulous attention to Britten's expression marks and relish the remarkable contrasts of tempo and texture" (Gramophone reviewing the 1st quartet, May 1991).
- "…..undeniably compelling readings" (Gramophone on the 2nd and 3rd quartets, December 1990).