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CD Review

Benjamin Britten

The Operas, Volume 3

  • The Burning Fiery Furnace, Op. 77
  • The Prodigal Son, Op. 81
  • The Little Sweep, Op. 45
  • Gemini Variations
  • Children's Crusade, Op. 82
  • Curlew River, Op. 71
  • A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28
  • Rejoice in the Lamb, Op. 30
  • Golden Vanity, Op. 78
  • A Boy was Born, Op. 3
  • Songs from "Friday Afternoons", Op. 7
  • Psalm 150, Op. 67
  • War Requiem, Op. 66
  • Noye's Fludde, Op. 59 *
  • Cantata academica, Op. 62 "Carmen basiliense" **
  • Hymn to St. Cecilia, Op. 27 **
  • Saint Nicolas, Op. 42
  • Spring Symphony, Op. 44
Galina Vishnevskaya, soprano
Jennifer Vyvyan, soprano
Norma Procter, alto
Sir Peter Pears, tenor
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
John Shirley-Quirk, baritone
Bryan Drake, baritone
Harold Blackburn, bass
Michael Hartnett, harp
Simon Preston, organ
* Eileen O'Donovan, soprano
* Stephen Alexander, treble
* Caroline Clack, soprano
* Marie-Thérèse Pinto, soprano
* Darien Angadi, treble
* Sheila Rex, mezzo-soprano
* Owen Brannigan, bass
** Agnes Giebel, soprano
Highgate School Chorus, Melos Ensemble London, Bach Choir
London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Benjamin Britten
Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra & Chorus/Benjamin Britten
Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden/Benjamin Britten
English Chamber Group/Benjamin Britten
Copenhagen Boys Choir/Benjamin Britten
Wandsworth School Boys Choir/Benjamin Britten
* English Opera Group Orchestra & Chorus/Norman del Mar
** London Symphony Orchestra/George Malcolm
Decca 475604-0 10CDs 689m DDD
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With Benjamin Britten's 30th anniversary just around the corner, all praise to Decca for the release of this third volume of Britten Conducts Britten. It is fairly obvious that space constraints preclude me from commenting on any of the works, but with many of them having attained considerable popularity, I reckon that my views will not be missed.

Apart from Noye's Fludde conducted by Norman del Mar and the Cantata Academica conducted by George Malcolm, all the works in this memorable set are under the baton of the composer, giving the listener a chance to assess Britten conducting his own works.

The War Requiem will always be looked upon as the composer's most profound and disturbing utterance and the preferential treatment given to it in this collection is more than deserved. In fact it is the only work which one can hear rehearsed (on CD #10) giving its many admirers a detailed insight on how Britten worked when it came to interpreting his own music.

As is to be expected, sound quality is slightly variable, but is generally of the high standards one has come to expect from Decca. These takes were made over a long time span of around 17 years (1953-70) and the producers and engineers responsible were some of the finest ever to work for the company. One cannot but have praise for the sterling work of John Culshaw, Ray Minshull, James Walker, Erik Smith, Gordon Parry, Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock are the stuff of what legends are made of. An important document then from one of England's greatest 20th century composers.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech