x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Marriner & The Academy: 20th Century Classics

Decca's release of a 10-CD set of works performed by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields offers a broad view of the 20th century's classical tradition.

Marriner & The Academy: 20th Century Classics
Sir Neville Marriner (cond), Academy of St Martin In The Fields

A mammoth collection of 10 CDs has been assembled to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first recording made by Sir Neville Marriner's chamber ensemble, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Herein, in spite of its title 20th Century Classics, are a range of past recordings from the late 19th and 20th centuries, including pieces by Georges Bizet (1838-1875) and Richard Wagner (1813-1883), and other composers, such as Edvard Grieg, who for all that they lived in the early 20th century were Romantics at heart. Semantics aside, though, it is a superb and wide-ranging selection of works that have in common their suitability for the chamber ensemble line-up and their ability to show off the ASMF's superbly expressive, responsive tone. From American favourites such as Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber to British and European greats such as Benjamin Britten and Sergei Prokofiev, the international variety nevertheless offers a cohesive sense of the classical tradition. Even where the works are so well known as to be almost hackneyed - Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, for example, or Barber's exquisite and widely performed Adagio for Strings - there is something new to be found in the orchestra's clarity of texture and the warmth of tone. This airiness that defines the ASMF's sound works at its best in pieces such as Copland's Quiet City for Cor Anglais, Trumpet and Strings, in which the glistening strings and light, accented brass offer a stupendously beautiful vision. Other composers included in the collection are Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives, Richard Strauss, Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich, William Walton, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and a number of others, grouped intelligently within their respective traditions. If there is one criticism to be levelled at the collection it is that perhaps this lacks some of the really challenging repertoire of the 20th century. In truth, though, the result is that this is a more beautiful listen, and a pleasure throughout the eight hours or so of the album.