Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op 10; Simple Symphony, Op 4; Lachrymae, Op 48a; Two Portraits (1930); Elegy for strings (1928)

Reviewed on Fri 06 Dec, 2013

81 minutes of mostly early and precocious Britten (born 1913, of course!), opening with the ingenious Frank Bridge Variations from 1937 (Bridge was Ben’s mentor). Camerata Nordica, if few in personnel, plays with bite, unanimity and character led by Terje Tønnesen. The agreeable Simple Symphony (1934) receives a robust outing, if lacking the composer’s affection with the English Chamber Orchestra on Decca. Lachrymae (1950/1976), solo viola originally with piano, then string orchestra, finds Catherine Bullock eloquent amidst much that is enigmatic and dark, the source being a sad song by John Dowland (1563-1626). Bullock also features in the second of Two Portraits (1930), Britten himself, how he saw himself, maybe as a shy and timid young man, the viola close to his heart; it’s a beautiful piece and contrasts with the energy of the first one, of David Layton. Finally, the first recording of an up-tempo Elegy for strings (1928): richly expressive and skilled.
–Colin Anderson