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Benjamin Britten (1913-76)

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Britten & Dowland - Lute Songs

Britten & Dowland - Lute Songs


Britten:

Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70

guitar solo by Craig Ogden

Dowland:

Unquiet thoughts

Say love if ever thou didst find

Sorrow, stay

Away with these self-loving lads

Fantasia No. 7 from A Varietie of Lute Lessons

Come away, come, sweet love

Sleep, wayward thoughts

Come heavy sleep

Flow my teares (Lacrimæ)

I must complain

If my complaints could passions move

Captain Digorie Pipers Galliard

What if I never speed?

To ask for all thy love

Now, O now, I needs must part

In darkness let me dwell


Mark Padmore (tenor) & Elizabeth Kenny (lute)

“Padmore provides context by singing Dowland's original song before Craig Ogden steals in, alert to the Nocturnal's every nuance, and with a palette of colours both caressing and disquieting. Completing the frame, 'Flow my Tears' is beautifully inflected, though finer still is 'In Darkness let me Dwell' where in the final bars Padmore's enrapt engagement seems to conjure up the very chill of death.” BBC Music Magazine, February 2008 ****

“Mark Padmore again shows why he is one of today's finest tenors. The quicker songs, like "Away with these self-loving lads", gain in clarity from a semi-declamatory approach, while the slower are eerily viol-like.” Gramophone Magazine, Janurary 2008

“A simply brilliant disc. I can’t praise it enough. A bronze Liz Kenny should be on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, in my opinion” Early Music Today

“Since Emma Kirkby’s first recording in the late-1970s, we have known what to expect from Dowland’s lute songs. Some fine discs have followed, but not until Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Kenny’s new release has there been one as radical in its potential impact on our understanding of the music. With tonal purity intact, voice and lute add subtle decoration, rhythmic fluidity, drama and rich poetic sensibility to these songs” The Independent on Sunday

“... extraordinary diction and whispering chamber-like intimacy … [Mark Padmore] joy in conveying the emotional core of each situation” Gramophone Magazine

Building a Library

Top recommendation - Dowland Songs - January 2013

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Britten - A Boy was Born

Britten - A Boy was Born


Britten:

Rejoice in the Lamb, Op. 30

Festival Cantata for treble, alto, tenor and bass soloists, choir and organ

A Wedding Anthem, Op. 46

for soprano and tenor soloists, choir and organ

Festival Te Deum in E, Op. 32

for choir and organ

A Boy was Born, Op. 3

Choral Variations for men's, women's, and boys' voices


Thomas Trotter (organ)

Corydon Singers & Westminster Cathedral Choristers, Matthew Best

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Britten: A Ceremony of Carols

Britten: A Ceremony of Carols


Britten:

A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28

for treble voices and harp

Missa Brevis in D major, Op. 63

for boys' voices and organ

A Hymn to the Virgin

for double choir

A Hymn of Saint Columba

for choir and organ

Deus in adjutorium meum (Psalm 70)

for unaccompanied choir

Jubilate Deo in E flat major (1934)

for choir and organ


“ A Ceremony of Carols sets nine medieval and 16th-century poems between the 'Hodie' of the plainsong Vespers. The sole accompanying instrument is a harp, but given the right acoustic, sensitive attention to the words and fine rhythmic control the piece has a remarkable richness and depth. The Westminster Cathedral Choir performs this work beautifully; diction is immaculate and the acoustic halo surrounding the voices gives a festive glow to the performance.
A fascinating Jubilate and A Hymn to theVirgin, while lacking the invention and subtlety of A Ceremony, intrigue with some particularly felicitous use of harmony and rhythm. Deus inadjutorum meum employs the choir without accompaniment and has an initial purity that gradually builds up in texture as the psalm (No 70) gathers momentum.
The Missa brevis was written for this very choir and George Malcolm's nurturing of a tonal brightness in the choir allowed Britten to use the voices in a more flexible and instrumental manner than usual. The effect is glorious. St Columba founded the monastery on the Scottish island of Iona and Britten's hymn sets his simple and forthright prayer with deceptive simplicity and directness. The choir sings beautifully and the recording is first rate.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“The singing of the Westminster boys here is particularly impressive, with perfect ensemble, the solo work amazingly mature, and a superb contribution from the solo harpist...an altogether outstanding collection, beautifully and atmospherically recorded in an ideal ambience.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

Building a Library

Also Recommended - December 2004

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Britten: A Ceremony of Carols & St Nicolas

Britten: A Ceremony of Carols & St Nicolas


Britten:

A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28

Sally Pryce (harp), Katherine Watson (soprano) & Zoë Brown (soprano)

St Nicolas, Op. 42

Allan Clayton (tenor)

City of London Sinfonia, Holst Singers & Temple Church Choristers


2013 sees the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth and Hyperion starts celebrating early with this disc of two of the composer’s most popular choral works, both with a Christmas relevance.

The cantata Saint Nicolas tells the story of the original ‘Santa Claus’, a fourth-century saint whose acts—revitalizing three boys who had been pickled by an unscrupulous landlord being among the more dramatic—led to his canonization as patron saint of children and sailors. Britten’s lively setting is distinctly operatic, full of incident and colour—with the story brought ‘home’ through the use of congregational hymns. The part of Nicolas (here sung magnificently by Allan Clayton, already acclaimed as the heir to Peter Pears and Anthony Rolfe Johnson) is one of Britten’s great heroic tenor roles.

A Ceremony of Carols is a setting for treble voices and harp of some of the medieval texts which Britten loved so much, and is heard every Christmas in cathedrals, churches and concert halls throughout the land. This fresh, sparkling performance completes a thoroughly festive release.

“Layton’s soprano and mezzos affect a purity that sounds “boyish”...Clayton’s Nicolas is more youthful-sounding than his predecessors (Pears, Tear, Langridge), but Layton captures the mystery-play-like drama of the saint’s life story.” Sunday Times, 30th September 2012

“A Christmas disc to savour.” Financial Times, 10th November 2012

“Layton’s singers do project beautifully, and their sheer security makes this Ceremony a gorgeous, invigorating experience...The moment when the adult Nicolas (beautifully sung by tenor Allan Clayton) suddenly reveals himself in The Birth of Nicolas will induce goose pimples of delight in sceptical listeners.” The Arts Desk, 17th November 2012

“The young ladies of Trinity College Cambridge Choir here are pleasantly smooth without becoming unctuously so. Yet neither do they lack ruggedness...Clayton is magnificent” MusicWeb International, November 2012

“Layton's flowing speeds underline the dramatic sequence of the carols...All the solo performances are impeccably shaped and harpist Sally Pryce makes light work of the fiendish accompaniments...Clayton makes the role of Nicolas entirely his own. What a glorious voice!...This is a beautiful and deeply affecting recording.” Gramophone Magazine, December 2012

“The clear-toned adult voices of the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, highlight qualities in the work often missed when performed by the more usual boys' choir...Perhaps Trinity sound too well-behaved to match the boisterous enthusiasm boys typically bring...[though] the gains in terms of technical assurance and expression make this a welcome recording of a well-loved work.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2013 ****

“The ladies of the choir give a polished and fresh performance with a good amount of purity of sound, while Stephen Layton keeps the tempos moving convincingly. Women rather than boys may not be to everyone’s taste but it is mightily impressive nonetheless. Meanwhile Allan Clayton makes a thoroughly excellent St Nicolas.” Chris O'Reilly, Presto Classical, 3rd December 2012

Presto Disc of the Week

3rd December 2012

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - December 2012

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Britten: Canticles I-IV & Purcell Realisations

Britten: Canticles I-IV & Purcell Realisations


Britten:

Canticles I-V

Let the dreadful engines of eternal will

Purcell realisation

In the black dismal dungeon of despair, Z190

Purcell realisation

Evening hymn, Z193

Purcell realisation


Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Roger Vignoles (piano), Michael Chance (countertenor), Alan Opie (baritone), Sioned Williams (harp) & Michael Thompson (horn)

‘Rolfe Johnson is in superb voice … this disc is an outstanding example of his artistry’ (Gramophone)

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Britten: Cello Symphony, Cello Sonata & Cello Suites

Britten: Cello Symphony, Cello Sonata & Cello Suites


Britten:

Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 68

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Manze

Sonata for cello and piano in C major, Op. 65

with Steven Osborne (piano)

Suite No. 1 for cello solo, Op. 72

Suite No. 2 for cello solo, Op. 80

Suite No. 3 for cello solo, Op. 87

Temas 'Sacher'


A major release at the start of Britten’s anniversary celebrations. Britten’s long friendship with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was one of the most inspiring and fruitful musical collaborations in history. It led directly to the composition of some of the most important works for cello of the twentieth century.

Alban Gerhardt, among the greatest living exponents of the instrument, performs this body of works in its entirety. In the Cello Sonata he is partnered by Steven Osborne, whose Hyperion recording of Britten’s Piano Concerto received a Gramophone Award. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Manze join Gerhardt for the Cello Symphony, Britten’s only substantial piece of absolute symphonic music.

The astonishing music for solo cello—the three suites plus the miniature Tema ‘Sacher’—completes the set. The suites are repositories of a huge number of compositional and string-playing techniques, acknowledging their debt to Bach but also demonstrating all the imagination and emotional scope for which the composer is revered.

“Strongly and sensitively partnered by Steven Osborne, Gerhardt gives a wonderfully vital performance of the Cello Sonata, alert to the cunning interplay between the two instruments...[in the Suites] Gerhardt’s playing is supple, richly coloured and articulated with the utmost finesse...These performances demonstrate a mature affinity with Britten’s highly personal style” The Telegraph, 18th January 2013

“This is the fastest version of Britten's Cello Symphony on record. From the opening chords there's a brisk vigour to Alban Gerhardt's approach that marks it out as distinctive. He seems hell-bent on grasping this sometimes awkward and ungainly beast by the scruff of its neck and finding something new in its gruff exchanges...Last but not least his reading of Britten's Sonata with Steven Osborne is utterly thrilling. A must-have set for all Britten enthusiasts.” BBC Music Magazine, February 2013 ****

“Gerhardt makes one of the strongest cases for [the Cello Symphony] on disc since the composer’s own recording with the cellist. While his partnership with Osborne in the Sonata ...sparkles, he truly comes into his own in the solo suites, the most personal music here, inspired by the keynote works of Bach.” Sunday Times, 27th January 2013

“This poetic, virtuosic player makes a powerful case for the three unaccompanied Cello Suites on the second disc. There's no shortage of recordings of these suites...but this is as good as any.” The Observer, 27th January 2013

“[Gerhardt] has a cool-headed precision Britten would probably have admired...Given Gerhardt's fine Britten credentials, this makes a recommendable package: performances are well judged, with clean-cut rhythms and good attention to detail.” Gramophone Magazine, February 2013

GGramophone Awards 2013

Finalist - Concerto

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Britten: Choral Dances from Gloriana, Op. 53, etc.

Bliss:

Pastoral 'Lie Strewn the White Flocks'

for chorus, mezzo soprano, flute, drums and string orchestra

Britten:

Choral Dances from Gloriana, Op. 53

for tenor, harp and chorus

Holst:

Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, Op. 26: 3rd Group, H99

for female voices and harp


Shirley Minty (mezzo Soprano, Martyn Hill (tenor), Thelma Owen (harp), Judith Pearce (flute)

English Choral Music, Holst Singers, Hilary Davan Wetton

'With glowing sound and very attractive works for coupling, this is an outstanding bargain issue' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

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Britten: Choral Works

Britten: Choral Works


Britten:

Five Flower Songs, Op. 47

A.M.D.G.

A Hymn to the Virgin

Choral Dances from Gloriana, Op. 53

Chorale after an Old French Carol

Sacred and Profane, Op. 91


“The programme is delightful and the choir excellent. AMDG presents as formidable a challenge to its singers as any of Britten's compositions for unaccompanied choir. In fact that's sometimes suggested as the reason why, having written it for an expert group in 1939 and realising that its chances of frequent performance were slim, Britten never prepared the work for publication. It's a pity he couldn't have heard Stephen Layton's Polyphony! Even more than the Finzi Singers, their predecessors on record, they've worked it into the system so that they have the sense of it clearly in their mind and can make the word-setting fresh and spontaneous. 'God's Grandeur' (allegro confuoco) has the fire: the Finzis seem almost cautious by comparison. In 'The Soldier' Polyphony catch the swing of the triplets and dotted notes with more panache and make more of the words. They also bring out the tender lyricism in 'Prayer II' and grasp more decisively the conmoto, Vivace and Avanti! markings in 'O Deus, ego amo te'.
In the Five Flower Songs Polyphony have a young tone and their numbers allow them to convey a sense of round-the-table intimacy. In the Choral Dances from 'Gloriana', Polyphony improve on the Finzi Singers' performance with crisper rhythms and a clearer acoustic. Sacredand Profane, like AMDG a work for virtuosos, is given with wonderful confidence and imagination.
A wonderful disc.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Awards 2001

Record of the Year Finalist

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Britten: Complete Works for Piano & Orchestra

Britten: Complete Works for Piano & Orchestra


Britten:

Piano Concerto, Op. 13

Diversions for piano (left hand) and orchestra, Op. 21

Young Apollo, Op. 16


Read Katherine's exclusive interview with Steven Osborne about the Britten Piano Concerto (given shortly before his 2016 Proms performance of the work) here.

The three compositions which comprise Britten’s music for solo piano and orchestra constitute a unique, yet still little explored, part of his output. Here they are brought together in a stunning disc that pays tribute to the great artistry of all involved.

Steven Osborne’s performance of Britten’s Piano Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ilan Volkov at the 2007 BBC Proms redefined this often undervalued work in the ears of his listeners, imbuing it with hitherto unsuspected emotional and musical weight; playing the bravura passages with glittering assurance and joie de vivre. The same musicians have put down a benchmark recording here.

Diversions for left-hand piano and orchestra is a gem of a piece, which has rarely been recorded. It is highly virtuosic and incredibly well laid out for the left hand, at times almost in the form of études for piano and orchestra. Britten reaches unexpected levels of emotional intensity, most notably in the Chant and the powerful Allegro.

Seventy years or so after these works were first performed, their freshness and vitality speaks with the same musical truth that Imogen Holst divined in Britten’s work, when, writing to him after attending an early performance of Peter Grimes, she said: ‘You have given it to us at the very moment when it was most needed.’ In revisiting these unjustly neglected early works, and, through performances of matchless brilliance, discovering qualities that were missed or overlooked when they first appeared, we have good cause to echo her sentiments.

“It's the concerto...that is the real draw here, for Osborne's account has such deftness and wit that its only possible rival on disc is the performance by Sviatoslav Richter with Britten conducting.” Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 29th August 2008 ****

“The rapport between soloist and orchestra is often electrifying, especially in their fervent performance of Young Apollo, and the variations in Diversions ("Romance", "March", etc) are well differentiated.” Matthew Rye, The Telegraph, 6th September 2008

“Steven Osborne and Ilan Volkov launch into the Piano Concerto's opening 'Toccata' at a headlong pace… For all the remarkable velocity, the playing has weight and incisiveness too, and Osborne's way with the two central movements is equally sure. Diversions... a beautifully devised single-movement set of variations presents Britten's inventiveness at its most elegant. Osborne and the orchestra do this neglected jewel excellent justice.” BBC Music Magazine, September 2008 ****

“…throughout the disc, Osborne and his colleagues make the best possible case for pieces which have tended to be placed on the outer fringes of the Britten canon.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2008

“Osborne exults in Britten’s dazzlingly pianistic writing, and we get to hear the original 1938 version of the concerto’s third movement, a dazzlingly beautiful Recitative and Aria … a thrilling disc” Sunday Times

“Commissioned as a 24-year-old to compose and perform a piano concerto for the 1938 Proms, Britten played safe. None of the edginess he might have filched from Bartók or Stravinsky, no Bergian angst: instead, the models are Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Ravel, and in these terms he doesn't miss a trick, at least before the finale's rather perfunctory final gallop. Most of the piece takes a genuinely fresh look at pianistic conventions, and Steven Osborne yields nothing to the great Sviatoslav Richter in the punchiness and fine-tuned filigree of his playing. No skating over the surface here, with Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish SO adept at teasing out the music's symphonic subtext, as well as its piquant orchestral effects.
Britten replaced the original slow movement in 1945, possibly because it spent too much time in waltz-like regions already visited in the second movement. This disc adds it anyway, alongside two other scores for piano and orchestra.
Young Apollo (1939) was not heard for half a century after its premiere, perhaps discarded by Britten because its fanfare-like material was more effectively deployed in Les illuminations (also 1939). It's a quirky piece, difficult to programme, a euphorically unguarded response to Keats's vision of male beauty in Hyperion.
Diversions is on a much grander scale, its style making even clearer those debts to Mahler which Britten had allowed to surface now and again in the concerto. The multifarious challenges to the single-handed soloist create moments of strong emotional depth and, as throughout the disc, Osborne and his colleagues make the best possible case for pieces which have tended to be placed on the outer fringes of the Britten canon. The recordings, made in Glasgow's Henry Wood Hall, have ample depth of sonority and vividness of colour.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“Stunning playing by Steven Osborne and the BBC Scottish Orchestra under Ilan Volkov: Britten’s early piano works sparkle with freshness and vitality.” Maurice Millward, Presto Classical, March 2014

GGramophone Awards 2009

Best of Category - Concerto

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Britten - Purcell Realizations

Britten - Purcell Realizations


Britten:

The knotting song

from Orpheus Britannicus

Seven songs

from Orpheus Britannicus

Six songs

from Orpheus Britannicus

O solitude

from Orpheus Britannicus

Five songs

from Orpheus Britannicus

Celemene

from Orpheus Britannicus

Six duets

from Orpheus Britannicus

The Queen's Epicediumcus

from Harmonia Sacraumcus

The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation

from Harmonia Sacraumcus

Saul and the witch at Endor

from Harmonia Sacraumcus

Three divine hymns

from Harmonia Sacraumcus

Job's curse

from Harmonia Sacraumcus

Two divine hymns and Alleluia

from Harmonia Sacraumcus

Dulcibella

from Harmonia Sacraumcus

When Myra sings

from Harmonia Sacraumcus

Let the dreadful engines of eternal will

from Harmonia Sacraumcus


2 discs for the price of one

“Two irresistible discs—typically painstakingly produced and documented—and would deserve four stars if only they were there to give” The Times

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