Britten - The Performer (27 CD box set, APE)
Britten – The Performer (27 CD box set, APE)

Conductor: Benjamin Britten
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 27 CD box set
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Decca
Size: 7.67 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: no

CD 01-02
Bach: St. John Passion, BWV245
Heather Harper (Soprano),
Alfreda Hodgson (Mezzo-soprano),
Peter Pears (Tenor),
Robert Tear (Tenor),
John Shirley-Quirk (Baritone),
Gwynne Howell (Bass),
Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir,
English Chamber Orchestra

CD 03
Bach: Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kommt (Cantata BWV 151)
Bach: Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben (Cantata BWV 102)
Heather Harper (Soprano),
Janet Baker (Mezzo-soprano),
Helen Watts (Contralto),
Peter Pears (Tenor),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone),
Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir,
Aldeburgh Festival Singers,
English Chamber Orchestra

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.1 in F, BWV 1046
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.2 in F, BWV 1047
English Chamber Orchestra

CD 04
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G, BWV 1048
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.4 in G, BWV 1049
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in G, BWV 1050
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.6 in Bb, BWV 1051
English Chamber Orchestra

CD 05-06
Purcell: The Fairy Queen (ed.Britten/Holst/Pears)
Jennifer Vyvyan (Soprano),
Mary Wells (Soprano),
Norma Burrowes (Soprano),
Alfreda Hodgson (Mezzo-soprano),
James Bowman (Counter-tenor),
Charles Brett (Counter-tenor),
Peter Pears (Tenor),
Ian Partridge (Tenor),
John Shirley-Quirke (Baritone),
Owen Brannigan (Bass),
Ambrosian Opera Chorus,
English Chamber Orchestra

Purcell: Celebrate This Festival, Z.321 – Birthday Ode for Queen Mary
Heather Harper (Soprano),
Josephine Veasey (Mezzo-soprano),
James Bowman (Counter-tenor),
Peter Pears (Tenor),
John Shirley-Quirk (Baritone),
Ambrosian Singers,
English Chamber Orchestra

CD 07
Haydn: Symphony No.45 in F# minor, Hob.I/45 – “Farewell”
Haydn: Symphony No.55 in Eb, Hob.I/55 – “The Schoolmaster”
Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra

Haydn: Cello Concerto in C, Hob.VIIb/1
Mstislav Rostropovich (Cello),
English Chamber Orchestra

CD 08
Mozart: Symphony No.25 in G minor, K.183
Mozart: Serenata notturna in D, K.239
Mozart: Symphony No.29 in A, K.201
English Chamber Orchestra

CD 09
Mozart: Symphony No.40 in G minor, K.550
Mozart: Symphony No.38 in D, K.504 – “Prague”
English Chamber Orchestra

CD 10
Mozart: Symphony No.41 in C, K.551 – “Jupiter”
Mozart: Symphony No.39 in E flat, K.543
English Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Si mostra la sorte, K.209 (Live in London)
Mozart: Per pietà, non ricercate, K.420 (Live in London)
Peter Pears (Tenor),
English Chamber Orchestra

CD 11-12
Mozart: Piano Concerto No.12 in A, K.414
Benjamin Britten (Piano),
Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra

Mozart: Sonata for Piano Duet in C, K.521
Mozart: Sonata for Piano Duet in D, K.448
Sviatoslav Richter (Piano),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

Mozart: Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K.466
Mozart: Piano Concerto No.27 in Bb, K.595
Clifford Curzon (Piano),
English Chamber Orchestra

CD 13
Schubert: Symphony No.8 in B minor, D.759 – “Unfinished”
English Chamber Orchestra

Schubert: Sonata for Arpeggione & Piano in A minor, D.821
Mstislav Rostropovich (Cello),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

Schubert: Divertissement in E minor, D.823
Debussy: En Blanc et Noir
Sviatoslav Richter (Piano),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

CD 14
Schubert: Fantasy in F minor Op.103, D.940
Schubert: Variations on an original Theme in A flat, D.813
Schubert: Grand Duo Sonata in C major Op. posth.140, D.812
Sviatoslav Richter (Piano),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

CD 15-17
Schubert: Winterreise, D.911
Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin, D.957
Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op.48
Schubert: Selected Lieder
Peter Pears (Tenor),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

CD 18-19
Schumann: Szenen aus Goethes ‘Faust’
Elizabeth Harwood (Soprano),
Jennifer Vyvyan (Soprano),
Felicity Palmer (Soprano),
Jenny Hill (Soprano),
Pauline Stevens (Soprano),
Meriel Dickinson (Contralto),
Margaret Cable (Contralto),
Peter Peas (Tenor),
John Elwes (Tenor),
Neil Mackie (Tenor),
John Noble (Baritone),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone),
John Shirley-Quirk (Baritone),
Aldeburgh Festival Singers,
English Chamber Orchestra

Schumann: 5 Stücke im Volkston, Op.102
Mstislav Rostropovich (Cello),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

CD 20-21
Delius: Summer Night on the River
Delius: Two Aquarelles
Bridge: Christmas Dance, “Sir Roger de Coverley”
Elgar: Introduction & Allegro for Strings, Op.47
English Chamber Orchestra

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op.38
Yvonne Minton (Mezzo-soprano),
Peter Pears (Tenor),
John Shirley-Quirk (Baritone),
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge,
London Symphony Chorus,
London Symphony Orchestra

CD 22
Shostakovich: Sonata for Cello & Piano, Op.40
Mstislav Rostropovich (Cello),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

Shostakovich: Seven Poems of Alexander Blok, Op.127
Galina Vishnevskaya (Soprano),
Emanuel Hurwitz (Violin),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

Janáček: Pohádka for Cello & Piano
Mstislav Rostropovich (Cello),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

CD 23
Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge
Peter Pears (Tenor),
Zorian String Quartet

Bridge: Phantasie in F# minor for Piano Quartet
Norbert Brainin (Violin),
Peter Schidlof (Viola),
Martin Lovett (Cello),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

Bridge: Sonata for Cello & Piano
Debussy: Sonata for Cello & Piano in D minor, L.135
Mstislav Rostropovich (Cello),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

CD 24-25
Songs by: Grainger, Purcell, Haydn, Holst, Bridge, Butterworth, Moeran, Warlock, Ireland, Berkeley, Oldham & Tippett

Also available:  Garth Knox - Saltarello (24/44 FLAC)

CD 26
Schubert: Selected Lieder
Benjamin Britten (Piano)

Byrd: Variations on ‘Sellinger’s Round’
Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra

Britten: Fanfare from ‘Gloriana’
Anon.: God Save The Queen
Chorus of East Anglian Choirs,
English Chamber Orchestra

CD 27
Handel: Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day, HWV76
Heather Harper (Soprano),
Peter Pears (Tenor),
Chorus of East Anglian Choirs,
English Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Overture to ‘Così fan tutte’, K.588
London Symphony Orchestra

Mozart: Si mostra la sorte, K.209
Mozart: Per pietà, non ricercate, K.420
Peter Pears (Tenor),
London Symphony Orchestra

Mozart: Maurerische Trauermusik in C minor, K.477/479a
Mozart: Symphony No.40 in G minor, K.550
London Symphony Orchestra

This 27-CD set brings together for the first time Brittens complete Decca recordings as pianist and conductor in which he performs music by other composers – an astonishing variety of music that ranges from large-scale choral works by Bach and Purcell to Schumann and Elgar, as well as orchestral works by Mozart, Haydn and Schubert. Solo vocal repertory is generously represented with important works by Schubert and Schumann and early twentieth-century English song. Chamber music features Britten the pianist in partnership with two of Brittens closest collaborators: Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter.

During the research and preparation for this set a major discovery was made. The existence of a few unpublished Schubert songs was already known and a few works which had never appeared on CD already ensured their inclusion at the planning stage. However the discovery of an unpublished tape containing almost 50 minutes of Mozart (including Symphony No.40) with the London Symphony Orchestra recorded in Kingsway Hall in December 1963 was a genuine once in a lifetime discovery!

Incomparable recordings that pay tribute to Britten’s strong skills as pianist and conductor – an entire musical culture is gath

Benjamin Britten’s career wasn’t one of rapid success or public love. From his earliest years he was criticized for being facile; his ambiguous harmonies were too traditional during the decades when Schoenberg’s ideas dominated modernism and too advanced for England’s many musical conservatives. He and his partner Peter Pears took a pacifist stand during WW II and even briefly emigrated to America. It was really the startling success of Peter Grimes in 1945 that cracked the ice, and it led to a steady rise in acceptance and recognition. Now in his centennial year, Britten is being commemorated with quite a number of “complete editions” and the like, with this 27-disc box set being one of the most interesting. It honors Britten for his extraordinary abilities as pianist and conductor, at a price just over $2 per CD.

Reading the contents, I realized that these recordings constitute an entire musical culture, the one that formed my own tastes. Here is the burgeoning catholicism that allowed young listeners to become familiar with Bach and Purcell in updated performance style, although Britten preceded the boom in HIP scholarship. Here is Mozart conducted with all the repeats (Making for a very long Sym. 40) and a chamber-sized orchestra. Here are signs of a thaw in the Cold War, as Britten formed strong musical alliances with two of Russia’s greatest artists, the stoutly Soviet Sviatoslav Richter and the rebellious Mstislav Rostropovich. We get studio recordings alongside live concerts from Britten’s private festival at Aldeburgh. And nearly every CD is a winner, exhibiting the composer’s charismatic performing style – he has been widely acknowledged as second only to Bernstein as a composer-conductor.

Since I grew up with about three quarters of these discs, little came as a surprise. It did surprise me that Britten had any sympathy for Vaughan Williams – he much preferred Elgar and his own teacher, Frank Bridge, but as it happens, a monaural recording of the song cycle with piano and string quartet, On Wenlock Edge, produces an electrifying performance – a performance of genius, really – from Peter Pears. Pears is also prominent in superb, even unparalleled accounts of Schubert and Schumann song cycles, even though his great Winterreise and dichterliebe are marred by the aging of his unusual tenor, which became glottal and curdled by the mid-Sixties.

As for the sound on these recordings, naturally it varies across such a wide range of material. Almost everything is in stereo, and for the most part Decca had already remastered the recordings. I was only bothered by the shrillness of Purcell’s Fair queen, in an edition prepared by Imogen Holst, one of Britten’s close associates in his tightly knit coterie. It and the Bach St. John Passion (sung in English) will seem considerably dated in our HIPster era, musical as the performances are.

Amazon has offered a sketchy listing of the contents of each CD. I think it’s more helpful to give prospective buyers a sense of who the individual performers are, which I’ve lifted from another online store.

7 Comments

Leave a Reply