Scottish Ensemble - Britten - BBCi

The three works on this disc are some of Britten's best known and best loved, and have been recorded many times. Britten himself left his own recorded legacy of all three. They're all quite early works, composed before Britten's 30th birthday, and show not only his mastery of string writing but also his innate sensitivity to word-setting, be it Rimbaud's French texts in Les Illuminations or the setting of English verse in the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.

These are dramatic and evocative performances, and the Scottish Ensemble, who are playing here without a dedicated conductor, tackle movements like the rapid-fire 'Aria Italiana' and 'Moto Perpetuo' from the Frank Bridge Variations with great energy. By contrast, their accompaniment to Toby Spence's moving performance of Les Illuminations' 'Being Beauteous' creates a feeling of being suspended in time, and the wonderful arching, sinuous lines of 'Antique' can never fail to charm - even with 12 strings.

Martin Owen's horn playing is rich and expressive in the Serenade, and he manages the haunting, swooping octaves in 'Dirge' with apparent ease, although Toby Spence's voice sounds rather husky at this point. So, all in all it's an interesting disc but not without its problems. Ultimately you need to decide for yourself whether it works for you, so do go and buy it.

04 April 2005