String Quartets no. 2 & 3, Sinfonietta
Amadeus String Quartet (String Quartets)
Vienna Octet (Sinfonietta)
Polygram Records, 1990
This album brings together Benjamin Britten’s String Quartets no. 2 & 3 performed by Amadeus String Quartet and Sinfonietta performed by the Vienna Octet, so that it can be divided for practical reasons in two disproportionate parts.
Quartet No. 2 in C major, op. 36, was composed in 1945 and premiered at the Wigmore Hall in London in the same year, during a concert in memory of Henry Purcell, who died exactly the same day (November 21) two hundred and fifty years before. Quartet No. 3 in G major, op. 94 is among Britten’s last compositions. It was completed a year before the composer’s death, while he was already undermined by the disease. Recitative and Passacaglia (La Serenissima) include allusions to the opera Death in Venice, written two years earlier.
The two quartets are played by Amadeus String Quartet with an impressive vividness and stand out mainly for the animated dialogue between the two violins, which comes and goes in the various movements. The performance is full of tension and is extremely authoritative, leaving a deep impression and a great emotion in the listener.
Sinfonietta, Op. 1, is the piece that ends the album. It was written in 1932, when Britten was still a student at the Royal College of Music, and was influenced by Arnold Schonberg’s Chamber Symphony no. 1. The Vienna Octet plays Sinfonietta excellently, providing it with highly dramatic effect, which accentuates very effectively the nervous character of the composition.
The three compositions thus share an energy that allows us to consider their music as “in movement” and they make a compact cycle together, accompanied with an excellent execution.