Of the 200 minutes of music in this collection, Benjamin Britten’s three major string quartets account for less than half. And although it is easy for all the string pieces that Britten wrote in his teens and early 20s to be put together with the larger works – the First Quartet was written in 1941, the Second in 1945, and the Third, his last piece was completed big, no. to 1975 – the history they provide is not always very important, except as a reminder of how successful the writer Britten was.
These recordings by the King Quartet were made between 2005 and 2011. The discs were released separately at the time – I reviewed their first, with the second quartet, in 2010 – and now they are brought together as a set, with the order on each one unchanged, and all three original booklets included in the box. It’s a bit of a jumble and sometimes makes choosing just one job a bit confusing; the final disc contains early pieces, including the Simple Symphony, the Quartet in F, which Britten wrote when he was 14, and the 1932 Phantasy for string quintet, for which he won the Cobbett chamber music prize at the Royal College of Music.
The Emperor are at their best in these early works, where their clear sound and matter-of-fact approach are well-suited to music that sometimes comes close to the classicism of Stravinsky and Prokofiev. In later works he seems to leave much unexamined. There is often a brittleness and a lack of warmth about the playing that is too light, and especially the Third Quartet, which is already a cool, even dark experience. The Takács Quartet’s excellent performance of these works, released in 2013, quickly reveals what is missing here.
This week’s other pick
Tenor Andrew Staples produces Britten in his Harmonia Mundi collection, bringing together three great symphonies, with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The performances recorded in all of these works are particularly impressive for quartets, of course, not least from Britten’s own compositions with Peter Pears, for whom two of the performances, Serenade and Nocturne, were composed. Staples is impressive in both of these roles, highlighted in Serenade by the exceptional horn playing of Christopher Parkes, but he seems to me to be at his best in Les Illuminations, where he brings just the right amount of metal to its power. announcements.