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Benjamin Britten (1913-76)

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Britten / McPhee

Britten / McPhee


Britten:

The Prince of the Pagodas, Op. 57 - Suite

McPhee, C:

Tabuh-Tabuhan

toccata for orchestra & two pianos

Elizabeth Burley, John Alley (piano)

trad.:

Balinese Ceremonial Music

transcribed for two pianos by Colin McPhee. Recorded 1941.

Benjamin Britten, Colin McPhee (pianos)


Super Audio CD

Format:

Hybrid Multi-channel

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Chandos - CHSA5017

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Britten & Veale: Violin Concertos

Britten & Veale: Violin Concertos


Britten:

Violin Concerto in D minor Op. 15

Veale:

Violin Concerto


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Chandos - CHAN9910

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Britten: Albert Herring

Britten: Albert Herring


James Gilchrist (Albert), Pamela Helen Stephen (Nancy), Roderick Williams (Sid), Stephen Richardson (Mr Budd), Rebecca Evans (Miss Wordsworth), Alan Opie (Mr Gedge), Anne Collins (Mum), Susan Bullock (Lady Billows), Robert Tear (Mr Upfold), Sally Burgess (Florence Pike)

City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox

“Richard Hickox more than any rival brings out the fun of Britten's comic chamber opera, lifting rhythms in an infectious way. The result is warm and welcoming...James Gilchrist is outstanding, with a tenor light enough to sound wimpish in the first half of the opera, and then to convey the anger of the character in the monologue that marks his change of heart” Penguin Guide, 2010 ***

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Chandos - CHAN10036

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Britten: Billy Budd

Britten: Billy Budd


Philip Langridge (Vere), Simon Keenlyside (Billy), John Tomlinson (Claggart), Alan Opie (Mr Redburn), Matthew Best (Mr Flint), Alan Ewing (Mr Ratcliffe), Francis Egerton (Red Whiskers), Quentin Hayes (Donald), Clive Bayley (Dansker), Mark Padmore (Novice), Roderick Williams (Novice's Friend/Arthur Jones), Richard Coxon (Squeak), Daniel Norman (Maintop)

London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Tiffin Boys' Choir, Richard Hickox

“Britten's score is so often praised that we tend to neglect the distinction of Forster and Crozier's libretto, sung in this set with unerring conviction by its three principals. Keenlyside and Langridge deserve special mention for their arresting sensitivity throughout the final scenes, when they make the utterances of Billy and Vere so poetic and moving: refined tone allied to eloquent phrasing – the epitome of English singing at its very best. Keenlyside has a voice of just the right weight and an appreciation of how Billy must be at once sympathetic and manly. From first to last you realise the lad's personal magnetism in vocal terms alone, explaining the crew's admiration for his qualities. Langridge is the complete Vere, suggesting the man's easy command of men, his poetic soul, his agony of mind at the awful decision placed in his hands to sacrifice Billy. At the opposite end of the human spectrum, Claggart's dark, twisted being and his depravity of thought are ideally realised by Tomlinson, give or take one or two moments of unsteadiness when his voice comes under pressure. In supporting roles there's also much to admire. Mark Padmore conveys all the Novice's terror in a very immediate, tortured manner. Clive Bayley's Dansker is full of canny wisdom. Alan Opie is a resolute Mr Redburn.
Matthew Best's is an appropriately powerful Mr Flint, though his large, gritty bass-baritone records uneasily.
Hickox conducts with all his old zest for marshalling large forces, searching out every cranny of the score, and the London Symphony forces respond with real virtuosity. Speeds now and again sound a shade too deliberate, and there's not always quite that sense of an ongoing continuum you feel in both of Britten's readings, which are by and large tauter. But the Chandos, using the revised two-act version, comes into most direct competition with Britten's later Decca set. The latter still sounds well, though inevitably it hasn't the aural range of the Chandos recording. Yet nobody will ever quite catch the creative tension the composer brings to his own work. For all that, the Chandos set benefits from this trio of imaginative singers, and most newcomers will be satisfied with its appreciable achievement.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“the finest cast of principals yet assembled...In Philip Langridge the role of Vere has found its most thoughtful interpreter yet...Comparably magnetic is John Tomlinson's Claggart, the personification of evil, chillingly malevolent in every inflexion...Keenlyside as Billy gains over all rivals in the fresh, youthful incisiveness of the voice” Penguin Guide, 2010 ***

“an outstanding trio of principals – Philip Langridge's erudite, conflicted Captain Vere, Simon Keenlyside's virile yet innocent-sounding Billy and John Tomlinson's pitch-black Claggart. The smaller roles, too, are beautifully characterised, with cameos from young British singers who would go on to make their mark as front-ranking interpreters of Britten's music.” Maurice Millward, Presto Classical, March 2014

Presto Disc of the Week

1st December 2008

Building a Library

First Choice - January 2013

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Chandos - CHAN9826

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Britten: Cello Symphony & Suite from Death in Venice

Britten: Cello Symphony & Suite from Death in Venice


Britten:

Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 68

Raphael Wallfisch (cello)

Death in Venice: suite


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Chandos Classics - CHAN10274X

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Britten: Death in Venice

Britten: Death in Venice

An opera in two acts


Philip Langridge (Aschenbach), Alan Opie (Traveller/Elderly Fop/Old Gondolier/Hotel Manager/Hotel Barber/Leader of the Players/Voice of Dionysus), Michael Chance (Voice of Apollo)

BBC Singers, City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox

“This recording in Richard Hickox's Britten series is beautifully played and recorded, and in its all-important central role reunites Hickox with Philip Langridge, so compelling in their earlier set of Peter Grimes. Britten tailored the role of Aschenbach so perfectly for Peter Pears's inimitable tenor that it's unlikely any other singer will find it an easy fit. A few years ago Langridge might have been more adept than he is now at handling some of the high-lying lyrical lines, but the compromises in this department are worth making for a singer who's so penetrating in dramatic insight. Hardly a page of the score passes without his vivid delivery opening up some new dimension of the role. As the drama deepens he progressively strips the soul of Aschenbach bare.
His two main colleagues perform to an equally high level. Alan Opie is still in his vocal prime and all seven of his multifarious Dionysiac characters are sharply delineated. The excellent Michael Chance is more ethereal as the Voice of Apollo than James Bowman, and for that reason is preferable by a whisker.
As always, Hickox takes his time over the score, but there's less sense of self-indulgence than in some of his earlier Britten recordings.
He raws playing of high quality and generosity of feeling from the City of London Sinfonia.
Add an exemplary choral contribution from the BBC Singers and a typically atmospheric Chandos recording, and there's no reason to resist.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“...matches and in many ways even outshines the fine model of the original recording...Langridge proves an inspired interpreter of the role of Ashenbach [sic], more passionate than Pears, and in his death scene he is even more poignant...Add to that Hickox's powerful, finely-timed pacing of a work which is largely meditative, and the result is totally magnetic.” Penguin Guide, 2010 ***

“The Pears/Bedford version tends to emphasise the opera's elegiac side… The Chandos… is certainly not lacking in depth. But it also has an incisive clarity matching Richard Hickox's generally more urgent approach to expression and tempo, and the more anguished Aschenbach of Philip Langridge... His riveting intensity is finely supported by Alan Opie's increasingly sinister evocation of the succession of characters who convey Aschenbach to his doom; easily a match for John Shirley-Quirk on the Decca set, as is the new Apollo of Michael Chance for that of James Bowman.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2005 *****

“Langridge is an inspired interpreter of the role of Aschenbach; his performance here is matched by Alan Opie’s sinister portrayal of the six characters who convey him to his doom. Michael Chance contributes an ethereally unsettling Voice of Apollo, and Richard Hickox coaxes out every bit of the score's morbid beauty.” Maurice Millward, Presto Classical, March 2014

GGramophone Awards 2005

Best of Category - Opera

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - May 2005

BBC Music Magazine

Opera Choice - May 2005

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Chandos - CHAN10280

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Britten: Orchestral and String Works

Britten: Orchestral and String Works


Britten:

Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes, Op. 33

Ulster Orchestra, Vernon Handley

Young Apollo, Op. 16

I Musici de Montreal, Yuli Turovsky

Death in Venice: suite

English Chamber Orchestra, Steuart Bedford

Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10

I Musici de Montreal, Yuli Turovsky

Lachrymae for viola & strings, Op. 48a

Rivka Golani(viola)

I Musici de Montreal, Yuli Turovsky

Simple Symphony, Op. 4

I Musici de Montreal, Yuli Turovsky


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Chandos 241 - CHAN241-2

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Britten: Owen Wingrave

Britten: Owen Wingrave


Peter Coleman-Wright (Owen Wingrave), Robin Leggate (General Sir Philip Wingrave/Narrator), Elizabeth Connell (Miss Wingrave), Janice Watson (Mrs. Coyle), Sarah Fox (Mrs. Julien), Alan Opie (Spencer Coyle), Pamela Helen Stephen (Kate) & James Gilchrist (Lechmere)

City of London Sinfonia & Tiffin Boys Choir, Richard Hickox

Following the success of his recent performance of the opera at London’s Cadagon Hall, the seasoned Britten performer Richard Hickox has committed the composer’s rarely recorded Owen Wingrave to disc. Only one rival CD recording is available at present. Commissioned by BBC television in 1966, the work is something of a Cinderella among Britten’s operas, despite its imaginative, closely knit score. One possible reason is that it was composed for television rather than the theatre. Like its 1954 predecessor, The Turn of the Screw, Owen Wingrave is based on a ghost story by Henry James. Britten read the story while he was working on The Turn of the Screw, and even then conceived the idea of setting it as an opera. The music employs the relatively spare textures that Britten adopted in his later years.

“Richard Hickox's command of the score...banishes once and for all the idea that the work was a mere appendix to the composer's operatic career: its pacifist theme was a central one to Britten's creative being, and he invested the opera with all the musical richness and textural originality of an unrivalled master of the medium, best expressed here in the playing of the City of London Sinfonia, which is wonderfully alive.” The Telegraph, 14th June 2008

“This excellent recording by Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia conjures shimmering life into oft-ignored episodes of brilliant musical characterisation. The stand-out in a first-class cast is James Gilchrist's Lechmere, full of eager innocence, loyalty and vim.” The Times, 14th June 2008 ****

“Hickox and his cast make the strongest possible case for the opera: Peter Coleman-Wright’s eloquent, idealistic Owen might seem mature casting, but there are fine cameos from Alan Opie (Owen’s tutor), Robin Leggate (the General) and James Gilchrist (Lechmere). Pamela Helen Stephen’s Kate is not as bitchy as Janet Baker’s, Elizabeth Connell’s Miss Wingrave not quite as formidable as Sylvia Fisher’s strident, domineering portrait, but both sing well.” Sunday Times, 8th June 2008

“Hickox's excellent cast boasts some supreme exponents. Hickox draws haunting colours and chordings from his City of London Sinfonia, and the recording is flawlessly presented.” BBC Music Magazine, July 2008 ****

“The new set… becomes the first recording in any medium to do the work full musical and dramatic justice. It should also satisfy the curiosity of those who wonder why its devotees hail Wingrave as Britten's greatest completed opera.” Gramophone Magazine, September 2008

“After experimenting with smaller-scale forms of musical theatre throughout the 1960s, Britten returned to 'grand' opera in Owen Wingrave, based on Henry James's pacifist debate about following the flag or one's conscience. Premiered as a TV commission, Wingrave enjoyed unmerited Cinderella status among Britten's stage works until the recent TV film conducted by Kent Nagano (with Gerald Finley in the title- role – see below) and an innovative stage production by Tim Hopkins at Covent Garden's Linbury Studio in 2007.
Over the years Richard Hickox has used his studio skills to telling effect in the vocal works of Britten. In this new recording following concert performances, Peter Coleman-Wright is most adept at conveying Owen's pain and troubled conscience, the while never giving way to an over-emotionalism untrue to anyone brought up in a soldier's family. Alan Opie, in what is in many ways the beau role of the military tutor Spencer Coyle, achieves both a superb neutrality and an evident empathy with Owen's decision to quit the military life. Robin Leggate avoids caricature (or simple Peter Pears homage) in the small but essential role of the family termagant, General Sir Philip Wingrave. The women are no less characterful, with an especially sympathetic reading of Coyle's wife from Janice Watson.
Throughout Wingrave, Britten's cunning reworking of rhythmic structures and harmonic devices pioneered as early as Peter Grimes reaches a new level of plasticity and sophistication.
The shimmer of orchestral sound – sometimes impressionistic, sometimes Gamelaninfluenced, sometimes wholly percussive – is a still insufficiently appreciated wonder of 1970s operatic writing. The core duets of Coyle/Wingrave, Wingrave/Lechmere and Wingrave/Kate (in which she sets the reluctant soldier the challenge of spending a night alone in the haunted room) are anchored on a sophisticated version of the tonal atonal structures on which Britten had once based The Turn of the Screw. It lends the drama an amazing tensile strength, closely parallel to the Berg operas which Britten wanted to get to know better in the 1930s but was discouraged by his teachers from approaching too closely.
The new set, in Chandos's customary natural comfortable sound, becomes the first recording in any medium to do the work full musical and dramatic justice. It should also satisfy the curiosity of those who wonder why its devotees hail Wingrave as Britten's greatest completed opera.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“this recording advances as a good a case for the opera as anyone could reasonably expect. The cast, headed by Peter Coleman-Wright as the haunted, compromised Owen Wingrave, is strong, and the gallery of English eccentrics/grotesques that make up the extended Wingrave family is vividly depicted.” The Guardian, 6th June 2008 ***

“First-rate atmospheric sound, apt in a ghost story” Penguin Guide, 2010 edition ***

GGramophone Awards 2009

Finalist - Opera

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - September 2008

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Chandos - CHAN10473(2)

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Britten: Paul Bunyan

Britten: Paul Bunyan


Peter Coleman-Wright (Narrator), Kenneth Cranham (Paul Bunyan), Kurt Streit (Johnny Inkslinger), Susan Gritton (Tiny), Timothy Robinson (Slim), Jeremy White (Hel Helson), Francis Egerton (Sam Sharkey), Graeme Broadbent (Big Benny), Roderick Earle (John Shears), Henry Moss (Western Union Boy), Lilian Watson (Fido), Pamela Helen Stephen (Moppet), Leah-Marian Jones (Poppet)

Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Richard Hickox

Recorded in 1999

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Chandos - CHAN9781

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Britten: Peter Grimes

Britten: Peter Grimes


Philip Langridge (Peter Grimes), Janice Watson (Ellen Orford), Alan Opie (Balstrode), Ameral Gunson (Auntie), John Graham-Hall (Bob Boles), John Connell (Swallow), Anne Collins (Mrs Sedley), Roderick Williams (Ned Keene), John Fryatt (Rector), Matthew Best (Hobson), Yvonne Barclay (First Niece), Pamela Helen Stephen (Second Niece)

London Symphony Chorus, Opera London. City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox

“Any reading that so potently confirms the genius of this piece must have a distinguished place in the discography. In the first place there's Langridge's tense, sinewy, sensitive Grimes. Predictably he rises to the challenge of the Mad Scene; this is a man hugely to be pitied, yet there's a touch of resignation, of finding some sort of peace at last, after all the agony of the soul. His portrayal is tense and immediate, and a match for that of Pears in personal identification – listen to the eager touch at 'We strained in the wind'. The next composite heroes are the members of the chorus. Electrifying as their rivals are, the LSO singers, trained by Stephen Westrop, seem just that much more arresting, not least in the hue-and-cry of Act 3, quite terrifying in its immediacy as recorded by Chandos.
Hickox's interpretation has little to fear from the distinguished competition. Many details are placed with special care, particularly in the Interludes and the parodistic dances in Act 3, and whole episodes, such as the Grimes- Balstrode dispute in Act 1, have seldom sounded so dramatic. Once or twice one would have liked a firmer forward movement, as in the fifth Interlude, but the sense of total music-theatre is present throughout.
Of the other soloists, the one comparative disappointment is Janice Watson's Ellen Orford. She sings the part with tone as lovely as any of her rivals on disc and with carefully wrought phrasing, but doesn't have the experience to stand out from the village regulars.
Britten's set remains hors concours, but that recording stretches over three CDs.
Hickox is the finest of the modern recordings: as sound it's quite spectacular, vast in range, with well-managed perspectives and just enough hints of stage action to be convincing.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“The rhythmic spring which Hickox gives this colourful score harks back to the composer's classic set...The casting of Philip Langridge in the title-role is central to the set's success. As on stage, he is unrivalled at conveying the character's moutning hysteria, and the result is chilling. Janice Watson makes a most touching Ellen Orford” Penguin Guide, 2010 edition ***

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Chandos - CHAN9447

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