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Reviews: Benjamin Britten: Les Illuminations - Scottish Ensemble

Reviews: 4

Site review by Polly Nomial April 4, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:    
The text for this review has been moved to the new site. You can read it here:

http://www.HRAudio.net/showmusic.php?title=2851#reviews

Review by Oscar May 20, 2007 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
This is a wodreful disc of early Britten works.

The Scottish Ensamble plays with virtuosistic flair, creating precise moods and soundscapes that are very important in Britten´s musical idiom. The small strings contingent (only 12) affords great inner detail of the compositions, and brings forward all the qualities of Britten the poet and composer.

The tenor Toby Spence is quite ideal in the difficlut "Les Illuminations" and Serenade for Tenor and Horn. Both these works demand a tenor with a very wide vocal range and, at the same time, intense and detailed interpretative finesse. Spence has both this qualities plus a very attrcative and malleable timbre.

The sound is excellent, detailed and spacious.

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Review by gonzostick November 8, 2009 (4 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Great recording of works for strings by Benjamin Britten. The tenor is excellent in both the Illuminations and Serenade. Sound quality is outstanding and the string playing is right on pitch.

I have marked down the recording for the wavery quality of the French horn playing. He does hit the notes, but his intonation is rather approximate and the tone becomes so unstable it resembles a saxophone (I love saxophone playing, but NOT on a horn!!!).

I would say the tenor actually is better than Peter Pears in this repertoire and it was written for Pears by the composer.

The Bridge Variations performance is lovely.

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Review by Jonalogic July 14, 2010 (3 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Here are three of Britten's greatest 'intimate' works on SACD. And most welcome they are, too; Britten is not well represented on this medium.

The great Frank Bridge Variations is crisp, incisive, dynamic and alert to all the nuances of Britten's revolutionary string sound. The doom-laden Serenade is graced with fabulous horn playing from Martin Owen and tenor singing from Toby Spence. The Illuminations? Well, I never quite get on with this piece, so I'll take a rain check on commenting.

And the sound? On my high-end stereo system, this SACD is characterised by a remarkably transparent and lifelike recording, with the varying ensembles locked in a convincing auditory space between and behind the speakers. Excellent focus and staging is achieved, together with good dynamics and very neutral balance (with notable string bass foundation) in the Bridge. Linn seems to be very good at recording small groups but - even by those high standards - this one is a real cracker.

Incidentally, the overall string sound here annihilates the much-praised (incorrectly) sound in the rival Pentatone Recording of this Britten piece, whilst the thoroughly idiomatic performance and playing is also far superior. I agree with the reviewer who commented that performance sounded just sloppy; plus the string sound in the Pentatone has a gritty top end and - a common problem with Polyhymnia - an underpowered bass end. Others may disagree, but I stand firm on this one!

All in all, this recording is thoroughly recommended. Auditioned in SACD; as usual, the sonics collapse utterly on the RBCD layer.

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