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Britten Rarities / Hahessy, Bowden, Procter, Pears

Hahessy,John / Bowden,Pamela
Release Date: 07/03/2012 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4802296   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Benjamin BrittenHenry Purcell
Performer:  Benjamin BrittenJohn HahessyMichael BerkeleyNorma Procter,   ... 
Conductor:  Benjamin BrittenSir David WillcocksBryan BalkwillWalter Goehr
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge King's College ChoirCambridge University Musical Society ChorusSuisse Romande Orchestra,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRITTEN RARITIES Various artists DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2296 (80:36)

This miscellany consists of recordings ranging from 1957 to 1972, many of which are practically Urtext interpretations. The annotator, Kenneth Chalmers, notes that most of these are the very first recordings of the music and that some of this music remains fairly unknown, even today.

An example of this is the first track on the disc, Voices for Read more Today , op. 75, a 1964 commission to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. It received three simultaneous performances around the world on United Nations Day, October 24, 1965, but, as far as I know, has only been heard since at the 1977 memorial concert in New York after Britten’s death. This recording was made in Cambridge in 1966, but it is not quite clear to me who is conducting. I assume it is Britten himself, who is listed under the main choir group, the chorus of the Cambridge University Musical Society, but underneath that is listed the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and David Willcocks.

This less than 10-minute piece, which carries vague echoes of the War Requiem of four years earlier, certainly uses a lot of words. Alas, despite the best work of the singers and the engineers, almost none of them are discernable.

There follows Britten’s recording of Songs for Friday Afternoons , op. 7, which he wrote for the children of the school where his brother was headmaster, whose music lessons were on Friday afternoons. These, and two more, are sung by John Hahessy (then a boy alto in the choir of Westminster Cathedral and now the tenor John Elwes) accompanied by Britten.

Though Hahessy went on to record the second canticle, Abraham and Isaac , op 51, with Peter Pears and Britten, the first performance was with Kathleen Ferrier, who died before it could be recorded, and it was, in fact, recorded in 1957 by Norma Procter and Pears, a recording never before released, however. This performance catches Pears and Procter in excellent form and is perhaps the best I know.

A Charm of Lullabies , op. 41, was a 1948 gift to Kathleen Ferrier, but was also recorded after her death by Pamela Bowden and Peter Gellhorn, on a disc that also included two Purcell songs (one arranged by Michael Tippett), here included as a so-called bonus. Though Bowden was hailed as the successor to Ferrier, I think the recording itself does her fairly edgy sound no favors.

Geraint Evans’s recording here of “Bottom’s Dream” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is said to be the first recording of any music from that opera, but Evans went on to record the part with Britten shortly thereafter. Here, accompanied by the Suisse Romande Orchestra under Brian Balkwell, he shows every bit of his enviable ability to act in his singing without distorting the character or the words (which are wonderfully clear here).

The music Britten wrote in 1939 for a radio production of T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone is, if I understand the notes correctly, here heard with the orchestral parts recorded by an orchestra under Walter Goehr in 1952 and a narration extracted and read by Terence Hanbury White overlaid in 1963.

These really are rare and mostly first recordings of these Britten pieces and, indeed, they are good to have for that reason. I am especially taken by the reading of the second canticle and charmed by Geraint Evans’s performance of “Bottom’s Dream.”

FANFARE: Alan Swanson
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Works on This Recording

Voices for Today, Op. 75 by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten,  Sir David Willcocks
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge King's College Choir,  Cambridge University Musical Society Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965 
Friday Afternoons, Op. 7: no 6, I mun be married on Sunday by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Benjamin Britten (Piano), John Hahessy (Boy Alto)
Friday Afternoons, Op. 7: no 3, Cuckoo! by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  John Hahessy (Boy Alto), Benjamin Britten (Piano), Michael Berkeley (Boy Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933-1935; England 
Friday Afternoons, Op. 7: no 8, Fishing Song by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Benjamin Britten (Piano), John Hahessy (Boy Alto)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933-1935; England 
Friday Afternoons, Op. 7: no 11, There was a monkey by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Benjamin Britten (Piano), John Hahessy (Boy Alto)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933-1935; England 
Friday Afternoons, Op. 7: no 5, New Year Carol by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Benjamin Britten (Piano), John Hahessy (Boy Alto)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933-1935; England 
Canticle II, Op. 51 "Abraham and Isaac" by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Norma Procter (Alto), Benjamin Britten (Piano), Peter Pears (Tenor)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; England 
Notes: Original version. 
A Charm of Lullabies, Op. 41 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Pamela Bowden (Alto), Peter Gellhorn (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; England 
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 64: Bottom's Dream by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Geraint Evans (Bass Baritone)
Conductor:  Bryan Balkwill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
The Sword in the Stone by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Terence Hanbury White (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Walter Goehr
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; England 
Notes: Narration recorded in 1963; orchestra recorded in 1952. 
Oedipus, Z 583: Music for a while by Henry Purcell
Performer:  Pamela Bowden (Alto), Peter Gellhorn (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: ?1692; England 
Don Quixote, Z 578: From rosie bow'rs by Henry Purcell
Performer:  Pamela Bowden (Alto), Peter Gellhorn (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1694-1695; England 

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