Benjamin Britten at 100
Benjamin Britten, one of the towering musical figures of the twentieth century and one England’s greatest composers, would have turned 100 today. His musical legacy is as broad as it is influential, his work spanning all genres: orchestral, chamber, and solo instrumental works; compositions for voice; music for films and folk song arrangements; the sacred and the secular. His most significant musical monuments are his opera Peter Grimes and the War Requiem, one of the most stirring meditations on the horror of war ever written. His The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra has been a staple of musical education for many decades, a fixture of classrooms everywhere. We are extremely proud to feature several excellent recordings of Britten’s music in our catalogue.
Please click on the cover images below to visit each album’s catalogue page for more information and links to find these recordings on Amazon and iTunes.
It was the opera Peter Grimes that gave the young Britten his first international acclaim, praised as one of the few true operatic masterpieces of the twentieth century. This is perhaps the definitive recording of this opera, featuring Peter Pears in the title role (which he originated), an outstanding cast, and the chorus and orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Britten himself.
Orchestral gems, again conducted by Britten himself. As Britten wrote, the Spring Symphony is “‘the progress of Winter to Spring and the reawakening of the earth.” It integrates many songs for solo voice and chorus into its four movements and is “the composer’s ecstatic response to the manifold beauties of springtime, of innocence and eager youth” (Gramophone magazine). The Simple Symphony was penned by Britten at the precocious age of twenty and manifests his already-considerable talents. The Four Sea Interludes are selections from Peter Grimes which Britten himself arranged into a suite.
Though Britten was remarkably prolific, his concertante works are few. He wrote only one Piano Concerto (Op. 13, 1938) and one Violin Concerto (Op. 15, 1939) in addition to a Cello Symphony, a Double Concerto for violin and viola, and a handful of concertante suites. These two recordings come highly praised by the Penguin Guide – in the Piano Concerto Annette Servadei “gives a strong dedicated muscular performance.” Likewise its review of this disc applauds violinist Sergej Azizian: “He adopts a manner at once lighter in the quicksilver bravura passages and more intimate and poetic in the lyrical writing, ending in a deeply felt account of the closing pages, one of Britten’s deepest inspirations”
Britten is perhaps at his best when writing for the voice. Many of his orchestral masterpieces (such as the War Requiem) employ his deft sensitivity for this most perfect instrument. His more intimate works for voice are no less stunning. This digital-download exclusive album features two of England’s great voices of the late-twentieth century, founders of the Pro Cantione Antiqua early music ensemble, countertenor Paul Esswood and tenor James Griffett, in a superb selection of fifteen arrangements of classic British folksongs for accompanied solo voice (piano or guitar), his suite Songs from the Chinese for voice and piano, and Abraham & Isaac (Canticle II) a remarkable and lengthy piece for two voices, accompanied by the Ridgeway Trio.
Sviatoslav Richter and Yuri Bashmet are perhaps the two greatest performers from the Soviet Union, with Richter as one of the most outstanding pianists of the recorded era and Bashmet (recorded here as a young man along with the legendary Richter) as one of the finest interpreters of the viola. Though nearly 40 years younger than the legendary pianist, Bashmet’s command of the viola matches perfectly with Richter’s ferocious keyboard approach. One of the works on this stunning recording is Britten’s Lachrymae for viola and piano, a magnificent reflection on a song of Elizabethan-era composer John Dowland. Bu uniting the pre-Classical beginnings of British music with the contemporary, Britten not only completes the circle of musical history (of which he himself is an integral part) but but presents its unbroken lineage.