Britten's Orchestra

Michael Stern / Kansas City Symphony

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Britten's Orchestra Review

by Blair Sanderson

One of the chief characteristics of Benjamin Britten's music is his masterful and highly distinctive orchestration, and the works on this album are among his most prized for that hallmark of his originality: the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, the Sinfonia da requiem, and the Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from the opera Peter Grimes. In tribute to Britten's brilliant handling of the orchestra, Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony have recorded these works in 24-bit, high-definition sound, which provides remarkable details and ideal stereo separation of the instruments, but also puts the music in a rather dry and compressed-sounding ambience. A result of this kind of hyper-refined digital technology is that every note is heard quite clearly, but the space surrounding it feels airless, unless it is played at a fairly high volume; even then, only the bass drum and a few other percussion instruments show any signs of natural reverberation. Furthermore, there is a sustained though extremely soft background noise that is reminiscent of analog tape hiss, though it is not prominent or distracting. While the playing here is admirable for its pristine execution and energy, and Stern deserves kudos for drawing intensely musical performances out of what otherwise might have been a sterile showcase, the absence of lively acoustics makes this album a little hard to get used to, and perhaps only technophiles will rejoice in the sanitized reproduction.

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