BENJAMIN BRITTEN The Performer 4785672

No one produced colours at the keyboard like Britten did . . . As a conductor he was always very clear . . . He was always moving the music on, and shaping it very carefully. Any orchestral musician who played under him loved him. As an accompanist he played as if the piano part was of equal importance to the vocal line . . . I vividly remember a performance of "Winterreise" with Pears at Aldeburgh -- it was simply riveting.

Here are riches indeed, which have given me almost unalloyed pleasure . . . the Overture to "Cosi fan tutte", absolutely delightful, with bubbling woodwinds to the fore; two Mozart concert arias, K209 and K420, with Peter Pears, both magnificent . . . [Purcell's "The Fairy Queen"] is a delight, stylish and buoyant with wonderful soloists . . . Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos are mostly done with multiple strings but display all Britten's virtues of rhythm and shaping, with first-rate soloists such as Emanuel Hurwitz, Richard and Philip Ledger . . . Had BB not been taken ill so soon, I suspect Decca would have got all the mature Mozart symphonies from him and the ECO. He achieved Nos. 25, 29, 38 and 40, along with the "Serenata notturna", and BBC tapes supplied Nos. 39 and 41. All are wonderful; and there is Schubert's "Unfinished" as well, powerful and intense, full of beautiful detailing but always with a firm sense of direction: anyone who thinks BB was inhibited or withdrawn should hear it . . . [K414 in A]: it is full of vitality . . . and Britten's own playing is full of pearly runs and immaculate trill . . . It is a constant joy, when hearing these varied performances, to experience such vivid, vital yet contained music making.

If ever there was justification for owning two recorded performances of the same masterpiece by the same master musician, it's with the two versions of Mozart's Symphony No 40 that grace this invaluable 27-disc set . . . previously unissued Mozart recordings include a humbling account of the "Masonic Funeral Music" . . . Among other Lieder highlights, aside from the celebrated Schubert and Schumann song-cycles, is a comparatively late version of "Nachtstück" . . . virtually set afloat by Pears. And has ever a tenor become Gerontius quite as wholeheartedly as Pears does on Britten's recording of "The Dream" -- a performance that . . . strips away every vestige of sentimentality and reveals Elgar's masterpiece in all its profound glory? . . . I would still urge even hard-line period-performance advocates to try his Bach. The "Brandenburg Concertos" manage inner vitality without pushing for uncomfortably (and, dare I say, unmusical) fast tempi, with superb playing from members of the ECO. The "St John Passion" (with Pears as a compelling Evangelist) was a Britten favourite and his reading is mindful of both scale and meaning . . . And of course there are the instrumental collaborations, most effectively with Sviatoslav Richter in piano duets by Schubert, the great F minor "Fantasie" all spirit and sinew, and while both players are capable of achieving power and delicacy, they perform the piece as a single, sweeping entity . . . [the longer "Grand Duo"] again enjoys the benefits of these players' formidable pooled insights, which are also applied to sonatas by Mozart.