Friday, November 20, 2009

Sunday Classics preview: Our second peek at Britten begins with the Peter Grimes Sea Interludes and Passacaglia


Dawn on the North Sea coast of Suffolk at Aldeburgh, where
Britten lived nearly the last three decades of his life

by Ken

Back when we took our original Sneak peek into the sound world of Benjamin Britten, when I was dependent on YouTube scavengings for musical examples, I was relieved to have Leonard Bernstein's rather tired DG recording of the mesmerizing "Dawn" interlude from Peter Grimes, like all the Sea Interludes and the Passacaglia, lifted straight out of the opera. That performance, of undeniable historical and sentimental value, is from LB's final concert, with his beloved Boston Symphony (at Tanglewood, Aug. 19, 1990), and I complained that it "seems to me to seriously underplay the whole piece -- and underplaying is something Lenny was rarely accused of."

"Still," I allowed, "the performance is good enough to allow the listener access to the interplay of unexpected tone colors, harmonies, and rhythms with which Britten conjures this musical image of dawn in a fishing village on his beloved Suffolk coast. Like all the Sea Interludes, this is music that's meant to play straight into the imagination, and I've found that even after long acquaintance it becomes more haunting with each hearing."

I noted back then that Lenny "had made a better recording of the Grimes interludes with the New York Philharmonic," and as we prepare to revisit Britten on Sunday, with a bit more control over the music, I thought the first thing we might do would be to hear that 1973 recording of all four Sea Interludes and the Passacaglia from Peter Grimes.

BRITTEN: Peter Grimes:
Four Sea Interludes, Op. 33a, and Passacaglia, Op. 33b

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond.
Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded March 8, 1973

Op. 33a, No. 1: Dawn
Lento e tranquillo

Op. 33a, No. 2: Sunday Morning
Allegro spiritoso

Op. 33a, No. 3: Moonlight
Andante commodo e rubato

Op. 33a, No. 4: Storm
Presto con fuoco -- Molto animato -- Largamente -- Tempo I

Op. 33b: Passacaglia
Andante moderato


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