Final disc in the series
On two previous, highly acclaimed discs the British Emperor Quartet have released Benjamin Britten's three numbered string quartets. Their performances of these undisputed masterpieces of 20th-century chamber music have been variously described as 'stupendous' (Classic FM Magazine), 'a wonderful homage' (Ensemble), and 'a complete cosmos of colours and nuances' (Fono Forum), and the two discs have received top marks and distinctions in magazines such as Fanfare, Diapason and International Record Review. For the final disc the quartet have gathered five works from the composer's earliest period, from the String Quartet in F, by a fourteen-year old schoolboy, to Simple Symphony, composed six years later and the work which may be regarded as his breakthrough. As discussed in the insightful liner notes by the musicologist Arnold Whittall, these compositions demonstrate how the young Britten developed a personal style of his own. The influence of his teacher Frank Bridge was important, but so was his own growing interest – fanned by radio broadcasts – in the music of impressionist and neo-classical composers, as well as Bartók and Schoenberg. In 1930 such influences prompted what remains one of Britten’s most intensively progressive works, the Quartettino. Aged sixteen, Britten himself was probably uncertain of the reactions the work might receive: it seems that he never showed it to any of his composition teachers, and the 16-minute piece in three movements remained unperformed and unpublished until after his death. In his Phantasy for string quintet and in Simple Symphony, composed for either string orchestra or quartet, Britten retreated somewhat from the terse language of the Quartettino, and after Simple Symphony, he only returned to the quartet medium in order to compose the three numbered quartets, in 1941, 1945 and 1975.