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Reviews: Britten: Frank Bridge Variations etc. - Netherlands Chamber Orchestra

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Reviews: 4

Review by fotodan July 26, 2005 (12 of 15 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I took a chance on this one -- not having read a word about it. But I've wanted a recording of the Britten for some time and the Bartok Divertimento is one of my favorite works for strings. This is my introduction to the music of Hartmann. I didn't have any qualms about the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, nor in Pentatone's qualifications, but I knew nothing about conductor and violinist Gordan Nikolic.

So it was a wonderful surprise to hear absolutely superb performances of these three works for string orchestra, all of which were composed between 1937-39. They were recorded in what I assume to be an Amsterdam church -- (Doopsgezinde Singelkerk) -- but the recording doesn't have the usual "churchy" sound, that is to say, not too much reverberation. Every strand of music is clear and clean even in the most complex passages. I was won over from the first two chords in the Britten variations in which the whole orchestra plucks their instruments and the sense of the orchestra's place in the room is immediately established. (I listened to the 5.0 channel program).

For my money, Pentatone and these musicians could record all the chamber orchestra repertoire exactly this way and I'd be a happy customer. Highly recommended on all counts.

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Review by Oscar August 30, 2005 (7 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Superb performances. The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra is a top flight ensemble, with crisp and articulate playing. Gordan Nikolic, their leader, is also the solo violin player. His tone is superb.

Of the three pieces in this disc, the Concerto funebre (for violin) of Hartmann, seemed to me the outstanding interpretation of the disc. THs music making is very caracterfull, and with a remarkable atmosphere. The Britten and Bartok are also excellent.

Pentatone sound is the usual excellence. The strings in particular sound very crisp and "tactile".
This record is a must.

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Review by Edvin December 13, 2005 (8 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Another marvellous sacd from Pentatone, and one that has been nominated for a Grammy in the category; Best Engineered Album, Classical. Fingers crossed. (Also nominated is the Bruckner 7 in two categories)

These pieces were written between 1937-39 and the war is evident in all of them. The strongest piece here is the Hartmann concerto, a war piece if ever there was one. The emotions are painful and disturbing, but also defiant. Hartmann is here a commentator, a narrator whose mission it is to tell the world of the grimness that pervades his own country. About the darkness and suffering of millions. But it is also a lovely piece of music, heartfelt and sincere. So much sadness. I love this piece and have done so for many years. This performance with Gordan Nikolic as both soloist and leader is absolutely stunning, if I may use that word. Gripping is perhaps more proper.

The Bartók is well known and is given a performance every composer dreams of. Nicolic and his Netherlands Chamber Orchestra are so sensitive to every little nuance in Bartók´s score, and the slow movement is a miracle in it´s own microcosmos. No lack of bounciness either in the outer movements.

Britten, well I suppose I am in a minority here, but I am not that fond of this piece. I appreciate it and I even like it, but its greatness eludes me. I have, however, heard it many times and know it intimately and this is the first to not only challenge the composer´s own recording but also to superseede it.

The sound is superb - I listen in surround only, can´t be bothered with only two speakers - and it is perfectly balanced with the rear speakers mainly atmospheric (sic).

(I know I should let this go but being me I can´t. Oscar wrote in his review that he liked the sound and especially the strings. Sorry Oscar, there are no other instruments on this sacd but strings. But you probably meant the soloists..?)

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Review by canonical April 26, 2009 (6 of 15 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Unfortunately, I don't feel that this SACD really performs on any level.

Short version: I find the performances to be uninspired, with poor ensemble work, and the sound is distant rather than crisp. Not recommended.

Long version:
This disc combines 3 works by 3 different composers:
* Britten's Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge
* Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Concerto funebre for violin and string orchestra, and
* Bartok's Divertimento for String orchestra

The stated reason for this coupling is that they are all pre-war works, written between 1937 and 1939, and that all 3 composers were pacifists. That may be so, but I find the combination to be nevertheless somewhat artificial and contrived, and one ultimately ends up with one of those discs that are impossible to file in any meaningful way.

Overall, I find the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra's performance, of all the works, to be imprecise and tending towards sloppy. Their playing never sounds inspired: they play all the works (which are very different in style), all in much the same way. One is left with the impression of an average band running through some works before a concert without the conductor. The Britten, when done well, sounds sharp or shrill and even alarming, in an almost slightly uncomfortable way. Not so here. The performance of the Hartmann is equally bland - no comparison with my performance on redbook on the ACUM label (Forbidden not Forgotten) with the Orchestra di Padova. As for the Bartok, even the first 25 seconds clearly shouldn't have made it out of the recording studio: the performance is just sloppy - woefully so. And the bass strings are meant to resound with Hungarian rhythmic fervour in the opening - no goulash here. Again, no comparison with my redbook English Chamber Orchestra with Menuhin conducting. Drab.

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