“The pieces on this release by the Sinfonia of London and conductor John Wilson all date from the 1930s, except for the Lament of Frank Bridge, and even that fits with the other works to a remarkable degree. Partly this is because Britten and Bridge were student and teacher, and Britten's Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, Op. 10, were explicitly meant as a tribute. That work has a detailed program, but even without knowing that, the listener will respond strongly to a fine performance, and this is one of the finest on record. The work is a virtuoso essay in neoclassicism, with the links of the variations to the main theme often subtle or allusive rather than direct. The Variations have a brash sequence of brilliant instrumental effects from the young Britten, and it is this edge that Wilson captures that sets this performance apart from others. The three subsequent works on the program are less well known, but they all have beauty and power. The unease of war hangs over them, not only Bridge's World War I lament but also the Serenade for string orchestra of Lennox Berkeley, which seems to lose confidence as it proceeds, as it were, in an uncanny way. The Music for Strings of Arthur Bliss, from 1935, contains a gorgeous slow movement that fully justifies the composer's description of the music as romantic. Wilson's readings are extraordinary throughout, heated but controlled magnificently, and one is left with the impression that to participate in this session in January of 2020 would have been an absolute joy. About the only complaint is that Chandos overdoes it with the church sound; it doesn't match the venues for which this music was intended, and the detail in Wilson's readings doesn't need the boost, but this is a truly absorbing album of 20th century British music.”
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