Britten: Simple Symphony (CD review)

Also, Temporal Variations; A Charm of Lullabies; Lachrymae; Suite on English Folk Tunes. Steuart Bedford, Northern Sinfonia. Naxos 8.557205.

There probably isn’t another conductor alive who knows the works of Benjamin Britten better than Steuart Bedford. A booklet note tells us that he was an occasional collaborator with the composer and conducted Britten’s operas “throughout the world, including the world première of Death in Venice in 1973.” I don’t know if that qualifies Bedford’s interpretations as the most definitive ones--Previn, Hickox, Handley, Marriner, Rattle, and the composer himself being no slouches with the scores--but Bedford certainly makes them enjoyable.

I have to admit, though, that I liked the first and last of the five works on the disc best. They would be the youthful Simple Symphony (1934) and the far more mature but still enthusiastic Suite on English Folk Tunes (1974). The three other pieces, Temporal Variations (1936), A Charm of Lullabies (1947), and Lachrymae (1976) are a bit too serious and somber for my taste. Still, Bedford performs them all in an obviously loving manner, with no excessive affectations to mar the naturalness of the music.

The Naxos sound goes a long way as well toward helping one enjoy the album. The Naxos engineers have created a wonderfully clean, detailed soundstage, with instruments well defined and frequency balances well gauged. As the Northern Sinfonia is a relatively small group (Britten intended the music for chamber orchestras or even quartets), the textures would presumably be more transparent, anyway, but the Naxos sonics make a good thing even better. Well, actually, the relatively low price probably makes it even better. I mean, what more could one ask for than excellent performances in excellent sound at the such a reasonable price?


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa