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What better way to mark the end of Britten's centenary than release some unrecorded works, the majority of which haven't been heard since they were performed in the 1940s? This is Britten with a difference - there are large sections of blues, jazz, a 'Tibetan' chant, a Bach chorale and even a ukulele number!
Britten made the hazardous journey from the United States back to England in the spring of 1942. Within a few weeks he had faced a Tribunal exempting him from military service as a conscientious objector. In his statement to the Tribunal he had said “I believe sincerely that I can help my fellow human beings best, by continuing the work I am best qualified to do”, and almost immediately he began giving concerts with Peter Pears in towns, rural villages and prisons. He also wrote three major scores for radio propaganda programmes: first Appointment, a BBC drama set in an internment camp in France: then An American in England, six programmes about wartime conditions in England produced by the BBC for live transmission in the USA by CBS; and lastly Britain to America, three programmes as part of a weekly transmission by NBC.
The last of these was completed by January 1943; in spite of the speed with which they were written, the music is elaborate and dramatic – the composer is clearly limbering up for Peter Grimes, whose libretto was evolving during this period.
Britten first met Dennis Brain who was playing as principal horn of the RAF Orchestra in An American in England. “I took every opportunity to write elaborate horn solos”, Britten said. A few months later he had composed the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.
The British actor Samuel West has appeared in the movies Van Helsing, Iris, Notting Hill, Howard's End and Jane Eyre; he is frequently seen on stage for the Royal Shakespeare Company and also regularly heard in radio dramas.
Benjamin Britten: The Ascent of F6
Act I: Entr'actes for Mr. and Mrs. A.
Act I: Entr'acte and Gunn's Song: The chimney sweepers
Act I: Ransom: O brothers
Act I: Pantomime
Act I: Mother's Song: Michael, you shall be renowned
Act II: Prelude
Act II: Chant
Act II: Climbing Music
Act II: Gunn's Song: Some have tennis-elbow
Act II: Climbing Music
Act II: Cabaret Jazz Song: Forget the dead
Act II: Ransom: O senseless hurricanes
Act II: Funeral March and Chorus: No news
Act II: Blues: Stop all the clocks
Act II: Mother's Song with Chorus: Acts of injustice done
Act II: Chorale: Free now from indignation
Benjamin Britten: An American in England
I. London by Clipper (Programme 1)
II. Dover to London (Programme 2)
III. Ration Island (Programme 3)
IV. Women of Britain (Programme 4): London
V. Women of Britain (Programme 4): You walk down to a part of the city
VI. Women of Britain (Programme 4): Warren. To my dearly beloved boy
VII. Women of Britain (Programme 4): It's a beautiful August morning
VIII. Women of Britain (Programme 4): Within 50 yards
IX. Women of Britain (Programme 4): Your first factory
X. Women of Britain (Programme 4): After the last war
XI. Women of Britain (Programme 4): You set out for a training camp
Benjamin Britten: Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall: Roman Wall Blues
Benjamin Britten: On the Frontier
Chorus: The clock on the wall gives an electric tick
Prisoner's Monologue: 'Industrialists, bankers, in comfortable chairs
Chorus: Marching Songs: Brightly the sun on our weapons is gleaming
Chorus: Ostnian National Anthem
Chorus: Waltz: The papers say there'll be war before long
Chorus: Journalists' Song: We fly to a cabinet crisis
Chorus: To build a city
Benjamin Britten: Britain to America
Britain to America: Where do we go from here?
4th January 2014
“Unexpected postscript to the composer’s centenary shows his versatility and completes the picture of his formative years”
“All the participants are excellent, especially actor Samuel West playing a portrait gallery of characters, and NMC's production standards are impeccable, rolling together spoken word, choruses and instruments so that the seams never show. A disc of incidental music should not be as much fun.”