Scottish Ensemble - Britten - The Herald

With the Orchestra of Scottish Opera performing Les Illuminations (with soprano Rachel Hynes) in Glasgow last weekend, and the Salzburg Festival, for which the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge was written in 1937, turning its attention to the composer again this year, the Scottish Ensemble's Britten disc is well-timed.

Rather more to the point, it is also spectacularly well performed and recorded, in Dundee's Caird Hall, by producer Tim Oldham and estimable engineer Calum Malcolm.

The most celebrated work here is probably the third one, the Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings, from 1943 and forever associated with its original performers, Peter Pears and Dennis Brain. The performances by Toby Spence and Martin Owen here stand confidently alongside such a comparison.

Spence finds another, lighter voice for the settings of Rimbaud's verse in Les Illuminations, which also features some exquisite playing by band leader Clio Gould, and the ensemble are masters of every detail in the Variations.

These are as fine performances of these works as are available from anyone else.

Connoisseurs of audio equipment expect fidelity of this quality from something with the Linn name, but this disc, which is one of those Hybrid Super Audio Multichannel CDs, could be the one to make people other than me think about buying the gear to take full advantage of the technology that has gone into making it.

26 February 2005