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Double double.

After last issue's sell-out fiasco, Tom Lyle and I are back to the classics. Over the past couple of years there have been a couple of low-priced but highly regarded recordings of Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes released on CD, and Tom and I thought it would be interesting to compare them. In 2003, EMI repackaged Andre Previn's account with the London Symphony Orchestra from the '70s on a "Great Recordings of the Century" disc that also features Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem and a couple of works by Hoist (EMI 7243 5 62616 2 4). Tom and I will be comparing that classic account with another rerelease, this of a 1989 recording of the same orchestra under the direction of Stuart Bedford that was originally released on the Collins Classics label in 1989 (Naxos 8.557196), a disc that also includes the Sinfonia da Requiem and the Symphonic Suite: Gloriana.

Following our time-tested method, Tom and have abstained from discussing these two recordings with each other and have done our listening and writing completely independently. Because this is an even-numbered issue, Tom will lead off with his findings and then I will close with my two cents' worth.

TL: I didn't think it important to use the original EMI LP of the Previn version of this piece for this Double Double. Of course that's easy for me to say, since I never owned the original. It would be nice though, because this LP is likely to sound pretty nice, being from what many consider EMI's Golden Age era of recordings.

But I don't have any complaints about the recording quality of either of these releases. The Naxos has plenty of focus, deep bass, and sparkling highs. There is a touch of midrange prominence, but I'm probably nitpicking. The EMI is amazing for being an analog transfer. It also has plenty of deep bass, and the highs aren't as rolled off as one might expect. In fact, the recording quality of either release didn't come into play that much, so I was able to compare the recordings on the basis of their performances alone.

It was pretty clear after only the first couple of spins that the Previn was the better disc. Previn just puts so much more emotion into the piece than Bedford, and there are so many examples of where he shows that he has a greater grasp on the inner meaning of the piece. Of course, the section that I kept turning to is the Passacaglia, I guess because of its turbulent nature. It is here that Previn shows how he can draw one into the piece better than anyone. But it is also during the quiet passages that he grabs hold of the listener. On the Bedford CD, the conductor does an excellent job of playing the piece, and like I said, it is an excellent recording. But next to the Previn, it seems like an ordinary reading.

As usual, I'm exaggerating to make my point. The Naxos is a perfectly good CD. It's just that it failed to draw me in to the music as much as the Previn did despite the fact that it is an excellent recording.

All in all, this piece captured my attention more than I expected it to. I have to admit, though, I miss the big power orchestral blockbuster pieces that we've done in the past, and look forward to doing them again. But this modern work is powerful in its own right, and I didn't mind listening to either version of it. But if I go back to it again any time soon, it's going to be the Previn.

KWN: I must confess at the outset a soft spot in my heart for the Previn recording. Back in the old days, I owned both the Angel and imported EMI LPs of this music, and I played it over and over again, reveling in both the spectacular music and spectacular sound. When the CD was released a couple of years ago, I was really thrilled.

When the Naxos release appeared, I snapped it up right away more for Gloriana, a composition that I enjoy but have not had a recording of for a long time, than for the Peter Grimes music (becsue the Prein is all I would ever need of that wonderful music), but was certainly glad that the latter was included. Doing a comparison of these two releases was something that just seemed inevitable, so here we are.

The sound quality on the Naxos release has a slightly more distant quality than the EMI, which is a bit more vivid and upfront. Both are excellent recordings, but they do sound different, even with the same orchestra in the same venue. If I had to choose between the two releases on only sonic grounds, I would lean toward the EMI.

The EMI also gets my vote in terms of performance. Again, the Naxos is very good, but Previn just seems to tie the music together better. For example, in the big climax of the Passacaglia, Bedford suddenly hits the brakes in terms of tempo, slowing things down in an apparent attempt to make things sound more dramatic. Previn just seems to let the drama speak for itself without imposing any underlining upon it, and the effect is much more musically and dramatically satisfying.

So far, then, my preference is clearly with the Previn/EMI. My recommendation, however, is that you acquire both releases, because the Naxos includes the wonderful Gloriana Suite, a stimulating piece of music that is not included on the EMI release. With both of these CDs being available at less than premium price, you can pick them both up without straining your budget, and you will have two wonderful CDs that will allow you, should you be so inclined, to do your own listening comparisons on your own system. Should you do that, be sure to write us and let us know what you think.
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Title Annotation:THE MUSIC
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Words:1004
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