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Recordings

Best of British from the BBC Proms 2007
16 Mar 2008

Best of British from the BBC Proms 2007

The BBC Proms webcasts all of its performances, and many are available for extended periods through BBC Radio's archives.

Best of British from the BBC Proms 2007

Hope, Josefowicz, Dukes Poltéra, Watkins, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Jackson Belohlávek, Davis, Knussen

Deutsche Grammophon 477 7352 [2CDs]

$17.99  Click to buy

Now in the "DG Concerts" series, key works by British composers from the 2007 festival season come packaged in a two-disc set with the title "Best of British."

Disc one certainly provides repertory that meets that definition. In classic programming style, Jiři Bělohlávek opens with a sprightly overture (Walton's "Portsmouth Point"), moves to a concerto (Elgar's for cello, with Paul Watkins), and ends with a major orchestral piece (Britten's "Four Sea Interludes). The Walton bounces and leaps with athletic grace, in sharp sound. For some reason, the acoustic turns dull for the Elgar, although some details of the string support for the opening cello statement poke up out of the murk. The unsentimental performance from both Watkins and the orchestra retains enough of the majesty of the piece, while providing a rigid spine that Elgar might well have appreciated. The Britten pieces never seem to fail, and though some more tang of the sea might be desired, they work well here.

The second disc brings together pieces from four different concerts. Andrew Davis conducts Delius's "A Song of Summer" to open the side, and maybe it should have closed side one. For following Delius's luscious, languid lyricism come three pieces from the last half of the century in modern idiom. Leila Josefowicz plays Oliver Knussen's violin concerto, under the composer's baton. Take all the melodic Hungarian lilt from the second Bartok Concerto, bulk up on eerie string gestures (slides and plucks), squeak out some horn bleeps, thwack a drum or two, and there's the Knussen concerto. Josefowicz plays impressively, but not well enough to convince these ears that the effort is worthwhile.

Sir Michael Tippett's Triple Concerto, from 1978-9, receives similar dedication from Daniel Hope (violin), Philip Dukes (viola), and Christian Poltéra (cello). After obligatory whining and whacking, Tippett introduces a theme (of sorts), and the music jumps nervously from brief flashes of lyrical coherence to spasms of frenzy. The thirty minutes take a long passing. Stephen Jackson conducts. The last selection comes from Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. As the title informs, he sets "Four Poems of Thomas Campion" for chorus. Despite the skills of the BBC Symphony Chrous, words rarely coaslesce into audible statements, but the texts, once read, have been well served by the composer's gift for drama and pacing.

Of course, some listeners may find the late romanticism of the first disc's music dull going, while delighting in the harsher textures of the repertory of the second disc. Others may enjoy it all. All in all, the two-disc set serves as further proof that the BBC Proms maintains its vitality into the 21st century.

Chris Mullins

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