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Benjamin Britten Conducts Benjamin Britten


Release Date: 09/28/2010 
Label:  Hänssler Classic   Catalog #: 94213   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Benjamin BrittenWilliam ByrdArthur OldhamMichael Tippett,   ... 
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Captured in decent, 1956 mono sonics, these performances represent a significant addition to the Britten discography. Of course, he recorded the Sinfonia da Requiem for Decca in excellent stereo, but the “Symphonic Suite” from Gloriana is a superb work, as important and enjoyable as the “Four Sea Interludes” from Peter Grimes, and its neglect is unaccountable. Sure, the opera (which is also actually a very good piece) was a flop at its premiere—neither the queen nor the rest of the coronation crowd liked it, as if anyone should care about their musical judgment—but the music is quite beautiful, colorful, and well contrasted.

Peter Pears sings the Lute Song, and he’s in his considerable prime. Otherwise, there are some
Read more interesting variants from the published scores, particularly in the percussion: no tambourine in the first movement, and suspended rather than crash cymbals in the finale of the Sinfonia. The Variations is a composite work, with five other composers (Oldham, Tippett, Berkeley, Searle, and Walton) all contributing. It has been recorded before, and Britten clearly chose it to introduce German audiences to a roster of contemporary British composers that they most probably didn’t know. The Purcell Chaconne makes an appealing encore, and the generally fine playing is a tribute to Britten’s gifts as a conductor as well as to the goodwill of the German musicians.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com


BRITTEN Gloriana: Suite 1. Sinfonia da Requiem. BYRD/ OLDHAM/ TIPPETT/ BERKELEY/ BRITTEN/ SEARLE/ WALTON Variations on an Elizabethan Theme. PURCELL King Arthur: Chaconne Benjamin Britten, cond; 1 Peter Pears (ten); SWR SO HÄNSSLER CD 94.213 (66:36)

Taken from live radio broadcasts in Germany from 1956 in superb monaural sound equal to that of the best studio recordings of that time, these performances will be sine qua non for collectors of Britten’s music, especially for two considerable rarities. Britten’s opera Gloriana , a drama of the love affair between Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex, was a fiasco at its 1953 premiere, and for some time afterward the work was written off as a major failure among Britten’s works, though recent revivals have changed that opinion to some degree. Despite being written to honor the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, there is nothing jingoistic here; even the celebratory dance sequences from act II have an underlying note of melancholy, which also may have contributed to its lack of success as being contrary to the spirit of the occasion for which it was written. (The queen was reportedly rather cool toward the piece, which portrays her predecessor in a less than entirely flattering light.)


In an effort to salvage the work, Britten extracted this four-movement orchestral suite for concert performance. Based on these excerpts the score absolutely demands re-evaluation, for the music is (pun intended) simply glorious, particularly in how ingenious use is made of modern instruments to achieve the sounds of Renaissance consorts. The composer’s fine conducting skills elicit a completely idiomatic performance from a German rather than British orchestra. Britten’s longtime partner, tenor Peter Pears, sings the Lute Song from act I that forms the second movement of the suite; he is expressive, but the dryness of tone and spread in the vibrato that would increase in the coming years is already evident.


Next follows a powerful account of the searing Sinfonia da Requiem , one of Britten’s greatest and most frequently performed and recorded scores. While the composer made a studio version for Decca in 1963 in excellent stereo sound, this performance seems to me in some ways to be even more uncompromising and gritty in its grief and anguish and is therefore of great interest in its own right.


The 1953 Variations on an Elizabethan Theme is a joint composition by several leading British composers—Arthur Oldham, Michael Tippett, Lennox Berkeley, Britten, Humphrey Searle, and William Walton—each of whom supplied one brief movement. (Alan Rawsthorne and Edmund Rubbra were also asked to participate but declined.) It was premiered anonymously at the Aldenburgh Festival, with the audience invited to guess the identities of the contributors. Unlike some such hodgepodge creations, this makes for a very satisfying, stylistically unified work. Uncredited here, the opening arrangement of William Byrd’s keyboard setting (in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book ) of Thomas Sellinger’s Round that provides the eponymous theme is by Imogen Holst. Most of the movements last one to two minutes; at slightly over four, Tippett’s contribution is the most substantial and he later wrote his own complete set of variations on the round. There has been at least one commercial recording of this work, by Jac van Steen and the BBC Symphony for NMC, but unless stereo sound is a prime desideratum this version immediately claims pride of place. The concluding work, an arrangement by Julian Herbage of the brief Chaconne from Purcell’s opera King Arthur , is played as one would expect from most performances of Baroque music in the 1950s—with great affection, but a ponderousness fundamentally at odds with the actual nature of the music. The booklet provides informative notes but no text for the Lute Song. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

1.
Gloriana: Symphonic Suite, Op 53a by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
2.
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20 by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; England 
3.
Sellinger's Round, MB 84 by William Byrd
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
4.
Variations on an Elizabethan Theme: Variation 1 by Arthur Oldham
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
5.
Variations on an Elizabethan Theme: Variation 2 by Michael Tippett
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
6.
Variations on an Elizabethan theme: Variation 3 by Lennox Berkeley
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
7.
Variations on an Elizabethan theme: Variation 4 by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
8.
Variations on an Elizabethan theme: Variation 5 by Humphrey Searle
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
9.
Variations on an Elizabethan theme: Variation 6 by Sir William Walton
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
10.
King Arthur, or The British Worthy, Z 628: Chaconne by Henry Purcell
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1691; England 
Notes: Arranger: Julian Herbage. 

Sound Samples

Symphonic Suite, Op. 53a, "Gloriana": The Tournament
Symphonic Suite, Op. 53a, "Gloriana": The Lute Song
Symphonic Suite, Op. 53a, "Gloriana": Courtly Dances
Symphonic Suite, Op. 53a, "Gloriana": Gloriana Moritura
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20: I. Lacrymosa
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20: II. Dies Irae
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20: III. Requiem aeternam
Variation on an Elizabethan Theme: Theme: Sellinger's Round (William Byrd)
Variation on an Elizabethan Theme: Variation 1: Allegro non troppo (Arthur Oldham)
Variation on an Elizabethan Theme: Variation 2: Lament (Michael Tippett)
Variation on an Elizabethan Theme: Variation 3: Andante (Lennox Berkeley)
Variation on an Elizabethan Theme: Variation 4: Quick and Gay (Benjamin Britten)
Variation on an Elizabethan Theme: Variation 5: Nocturne (Humphrey Searle)
Variation on an Elizabethan Theme: Variation 6: Presto giocoso (William Walton)
King Arthur, Z. 628 (arr. J. Herbage): King Arthur, Z. 628: Chaconne (arr. J. Herbage)

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