Klassik  Sinfonische Musik
Festival Strings Lucerne & Achim Fiedler Benjamin Britten: Works for String Orchestra OC 723 CD
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FormatAudio CD
Ordering NumberOC 723
Release date08/10/2008
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Britten, Benjamin

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      Simple Symphony · Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge Prelude and Fugue
      Festiva Strings Lucerne
      Achim Fiedler, conductor

      Die Festival Strings Lucerne spielen drei berühmte Streichorchester-Werke von Benjamin Britten nder its principle conductor Achim Fiedler, the Festival Strings Lucerne already recorded a complete series of standard works written for its orchestral forces.

      Since its foundation in 1956, the works of Benjamin Britten have been among the ensemble‘s core repertoire. The Simple Symphony plays with its basic musical material in masterly simplicity, proving Britten‘s complete command of compositional handiwork. In the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, however, the poetic idea cross-fades over the structural level, seeing as how the work is a musical characterization of Frank Bridge, Britten’s mentor.

      Britten’s last work for string orchestra, Prelude and Fugue, is the master’s greatest achievement. With contrapuntal technique that uses up to 18 different voices, this piece places the highest demands on the virtuosic abilities of the musicians.

      Achim Fiedler

      Achim Fiedler, born in Stuttgart, first studied to play the violin with Saschko Gawriloff in addition to studying chamber music with the Amadeus Quartet at the College for Music in Cologne. After receiving a violin scholarship for the London Guildhall School he continued his education with studies in conducting with Franco Gallini in Milan and Thomas Ungar in Stuttgart. This period was followed by an invitation to be Conducting Fellow in Tanglewood/ USA. Fiedler did a master class with Seiji Ozawa there, soon after followed by assistant conducting positions with Bernard Haitink and Carlo Maria Giulini. Achim Fiedler was supported by the German Music Council from 1994 to 2001, received the Herbert von Karajan Scholarship in 1997 and was an award-winner in several international conducting competitions (among them a 1st prize in Cadaqués/Spain, in 1996).

      Achim Fiedler conducts a number of orchestras such as the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra of the NDR Hanover, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, the Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla, the Orquestra Simfónica de Barcelona e Nacional de Catalunya and the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria. Achim Fiedler has acted as artistic director of Festival Strings Lucerne since 1998.

      Benjamin Britten: Works for String Orchestra English music seems to have a penchant for the world of childhood and youth. Dances and songs have long served as references for composition, including throughout the twentieth century, and even with his idea to take up compositions from his own childhood, Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony is not without precursors. An example we can mention that Edward Elgar’s suite The Wand of Youth is based on the same sources of inspiration. The unusual biographical consideration however is that Britten did not begin to rework the compositions of his youth in his later years, but had already begun to do so in his early twenties. And his examination of his own youthful beginnings as a composer is for this reason free of sentimental reminiscences; it attests in a particularly pronounced means the playful-constructive adaptation of that which is present by the childhood imagination.

      Each of us as a child learning to speak experiences the limitless joy of combining all the words we know in endless combinations as we make them our own, suddenly being able to create a world comprised of our own signs. And it is exactly this youthful joy of creation that is called to mind by the ever amazing beginning of Simple Symphony wherein Britten takes a simple cadence, commonplace and unimaginative, which could be a beginning or an end, and by repeating it multiple times escalates it ad absurdum. From this jovial reflection on the basic elements of music and the creation of meaning, the Simple Symphony achieves its perspective. The power of the creative spirit in the quoted childhood composition increasingly establishes itself until the refined obliquity of the last movement’s topic, whose chromatic divergences already betray a unique handwriting. Every element provided with a musical reference by the 1913-born composer in his score falls between the years 1923–1926.

      In 1934, when Simple Symphony was composed, Britten had already left the Royal College of Music and decided to make his living as a composer. In the following years he wrote music for a number of films, but also composed important instrumental pieces. Only after the year 1945 did Britten emerge as an opera composer who would influence the coming decades. The string orchestra is to a certain extent close to school music, and Simple Symphony was also composed as a challenge for school orchestras, although its full effect is only achievable in professional performance. Entirely at home in this sphere of a virtuoso string chamber orchestra are the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge that Britten composed in a very brief period of time for the Boyd Neel Orchestra, a society established in 1932 comprised of about 20 strings that soon made a name for itself throughout Europe and contracted a piece from Britten for their invitation to the 1937 Salzburg Festival.

      The Frank Bridge Variations is a piece in which the entire personality of the composer finds expression, with a tight fusion of harmonic and thematic invention, a love of genre models, which for an English composer of his time revealed an unusual affinity to middle European- Viennese music by Mahler and Berg (in the waltz and dirge). But here again the music is drawn from the playful treatment of his own biography. Britten took the theme from Frank Bridge’s string quartet Idyll, the man who had been the first to recognize the exceptional talent of the composing boy and had become his first teacher. In his dedicatory score, Britten arranged the individual movements to reflect the various facets of his first mentor’s character, which is a detail omitted from the printed score. This latent character portrait reveals itself as a double-portrait in which Britten’s own personality has found a place. This is increasingly clear in the entirely new harmonization follow ing the closing fugue and in the play of tones in closing when Britten emphasizes his very own D major, upon which the introductory movement of Simple Symphony is based.

      The impressively incorporated diversification of the string movements into individual voices in the Frank Bridge Variations is consequentially expanded to 18 voices in Britten’s last work for a string orchestra, Prelude and Fugue. This highly creative piece was composed during World War II and debuted on the 10th anniversary of the Boyd Neel Orchestra in 1942.

      Shortly after the Boyd Neel Orchestra disbanded after some twenty years in 1954, Festival Strings Lucerne was formed, whose core repertoire contains the three works by Benjamin Britten for string orchestra.

      Martin Wilkening
      Translation: Maurice Sprague

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