Author Topic: Benjamin Britten  (Read 69360 times)

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Offline Susan de Visne

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #20 on: August 13, 2007, 03:33:24 AM »
I agree the Spring Symphony is a lovely piece. I always like to have the composer's own recordings, but if you care a lot about modern sound then perhaps others are better. Britten's own recording is re-issued from time to time and you can get good used ones, from Amazon uk certainly. There's also an amazing one in Russian, but I don't think I'd recommend that!

karlhenning

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #21 on: August 13, 2007, 05:14:52 AM »
Listening this morning to the Simple Symphony played by the English String Orchestra.  Charming piece! 

Offline Pierre

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #22 on: January 05, 2008, 03:44:57 PM »
It's about time he had his own thread, apart from the one devoted to his operas. I grew up with Britten's music, and have an enduring love for a lot of it. One work I'm very fond of is his ballet Prince of the Pagodas - several miracles of orchestration, and one movement in particular has been haunting me: Belle Rose's Variation in the Pas de deux of the final Act. Though Oliver Knussen did a complete recording, Britten's own recording of the slightly abridged work still hits the spot more effectively for me: I wish Decca would re-release it since I foolishly never bought it on CD.

That recording is actually included in a rather good value 7-CD box set 'Britten conducts Britten' (Decca 475 6051): they even include the texts for the songs (it includes Serenade; Les Illuminations; Nocturne; Michelangelo Sonnets; and Winter Words - all sung by Peter Pears); plus there's the concertos (including the lovely Piano Concerto played by Richter, and the Diversions pjme posted about earlier). Definitely worth getting if you've missed previous issues of these recordings.

Ephemerid

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #23 on: January 31, 2008, 09:15:32 AM »
The Sinfonia da requiem is a terrific concert-piece!

This is my favourite Britten piece and its gripping from start to finish (Hickox' recording on Chandos is the best recording IMO). 

What I love about this piece is that tortured, angular melody of the dirge-like 1st movement is transformed into such a gorgeous sweeping melody in the 3rd movement-- at which point I often find myself in tears (the climax of the first movement does the same, but for different reasons).  Its as if you can really HEAR swords being re-shaped into plowshares!  There's such a compassion in this piece that really gets to me...


Offline Benny

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #24 on: April 06, 2008, 09:14:31 AM »
Anyone familiar with his recording of the War Requiem on Decca? Britten himself conducted, and rehearsed, the orchestra,  2 choirs, a chorus, an organist and three soloists (Galina Vishnevskaya, Pears, Fischer-Dieskau). Unbeknownst to all involved during the rehearsals, the producer John Culshaw kept recording their work thus taping Britten as he provides countless directives and correctives! Britten was "appalled" by this intrusion but these January 1963 recordings are nonetheless included in these Decca's "legendary recordings." An excellent lesson in the important role of the conductor, particularly the conductor/composer.

Some examples:
To the boys' choir: "Don't make it sound nice. It's horrid, it's modern music." (his emphasis)

"But above all, even if you get your Latin wrong, keep it going, keep it sounding busy."

"Now chorus... you sound much too healthy, much too healthy, there's no feeling of terror around ... make it sound creepy, make it alarmed."


 
"The need to be right is the sign of a vulgar mind."
(Albert Camus)

PerfectWagnerite

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #25 on: April 06, 2008, 10:59:52 AM »
Some examples:
To the boys' choir: "Don't make it sound nice. It's horrid, it's modern music." (his emphasis)

"But above all, even if you get your Latin wrong, keep it going, keep it sounding busy."

"Now chorus... you sound much too healthy, much too healthy, there's no feeling of terror around ... make it sound creepy, make it alarmed."


And my favorite:

"Once again, the composer is always right..."

Offline toledobass

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #26 on: April 08, 2008, 07:19:38 AM »
Just saw a performance of the first cello suite this past Sunday.  What incredible music.  Seems like an opera or big choral work condensed for one instrument.  Makes me want to get to know more of Britten's smaller instrumental works.

Allan

Offline Brewski

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #27 on: April 08, 2008, 07:28:13 AM »
Just saw a performance of the first cello suite this past Sunday.  What incredible music.  Seems like an opera or big choral work condensed for one instrument.  Makes me want to get to know more of Britten's smaller instrumental works.

Allan

Great music, eh!  (They were written for Rostropovich.)  The only recording I have--it's fine but I suspect others might equal it--is with Rohan de Saram (former cellist with the Arditti Quartet) on Naive.  I've also heard good things about Truls Mørk's recording.

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Online vandermolen

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #28 on: April 08, 2008, 11:23:40 PM »
I have a bit of a blind spot (deaf spot?) with opera but, I greatly admire the following works:

Sinfonia da Requiem

Cantata Misericordium

War Requiem

Passacaglia and Interludes from Peter Grimes

Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (Purcell Variations)
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

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Offline The new erato

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #29 on: April 08, 2008, 11:59:52 PM »
Just saw a performance of the first cello suite this past Sunday.  What incredible music.  Seems like an opera or big choral work condensed for one instrument.  Makes me want to get to know more of Britten's smaller instrumental works.

Allan
One advice: The Belceas midprice double of the string quartets. Wonderful music, from the strangeness of nr 1 to the sadness of nr 3 in wonderful performances and stunning sound. A must.

pjme

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #30 on: April 09, 2008, 10:20:57 AM »
The Missa Brevis is a gem .



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Offline toledobass

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #31 on: April 09, 2008, 10:50:26 AM »
One advice: The Belceas midprice double of the string quartets. Wonderful music, from the strangeness of nr 1 to the sadness of nr 3 in wonderful performances and stunning sound. A must.

Crazy, I ordered this set yesterday before I even saw this post.  I knew nothing about it and just wanted to hear the music.  I'm glad it's coming to my doorstep with high regards.

Allan

Offline drogulus

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #32 on: April 15, 2008, 12:56:54 PM »
I have a bit of a blind spot (deaf spot?) with opera but, I greatly admire the following works:

Sinfonia da Requiem

Cantata Misericordium

War Requiem

Passacaglia and Interludes from Peter Grimes

Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (Purcell Variations)

     

     I have the Cantata misericordium on this outstanding collection, and there's a beautiful short piece Chorale on an old French carol.
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Offline Guido

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #33 on: April 20, 2008, 10:33:44 AM »
     

     I have the Cantata misericordium on this outstanding collection, and there's a beautiful short piece Chorale on an old French carol.


I really like ths CD. Also includes a wonderful piece of early Finzi that I find irresistable despite its numerous flaws and chequered inception.

The three Suites by Britten I think are some of the finest music written for the cello - for me the finest pieces of solo cello writing of the 20th century along with Dutilleux' Trois Strophes and Kodaly's Solo Sonata. Rostropovich unfortunately never recorded the third suite, which is perhaps the finest of the three, and never played it after Britten's death, purporting that it was too painful for him to do so. In an interview a year before his death he expressed regret that he never recorded it.

I think Truls Mork has the measure of these works:

Quote
In the First Suite, he plays with many of the known virtuosic techniques, like double stops, pizzicato, and col legno. This suite is the most inviting to the listener. The Second Suite explores the various colors available on the instrument, like the colors of the different strings. He has you play melodies very high up on the G or D string, which makes the whole suite feel more personal. The melodic elements are larger and faster in this suite as well. The Third Suite is full of abrupt, fragmentary elements that make it very difficult to maintain a sense of drama. You must strive to maintain the intensity despite the jagged nature of the music. We are very lucky to have these suites.

The last movements of the third Suite, in which the Russian folk songs that have been the basis of the work are revealed (in some ways the suite is a reverse set of a theme and variations), are almost unbearably poignant in their simplicity and nostalgia. The piece has to be heard to be believed.

The cello Sonata has never done as much for me, it being the first fruits of the friendship between Rostropovich and Britten. Its well written and contains lots of nice original and uirky ideas, but it doesn't have quite the same level of inspiration as the other cello pieces.

The Cello Symphony of 1963 is another absolutely astonishing piece, and is his finest purely orchestral work. Though only around a half hour long it is a truly collossal work, brilliantly constructed from the most simple of materials and contains a lot of symphonic working out of ideas rather than more traditional overtly virtuosic concerto music. It is brilliantly written for the cello though and hardly easy but quite unlike anything else in the repertoire - very much more subdued than Prokofiev's similarly titled Symphony Concerto. It's in four movements like a traditional Symphony with the Adagio third, leading via an incredible Cadenza into a classic Britten Passacaglia Finale. The opening movement contains some absolutely beautiful moments, a passage where the cello sighs repeatedly with spare yet highly atmospheric accompaniment is particularly special. The whole thing has a very Mahlerian air to it (at least to my ears), though Britten is far more concise and mercurial. It is one of the finest pieces that I know of for cello and orchestra, but has remained, like so many works, only on the periphery of the cello concerto repertoire (along with the Walton, Barber, Shostakovich 2nd, etc.), much to the loss of listeners and musicians.
« Last Edit: April 20, 2008, 10:37:34 AM by Guido »
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Offline hautbois

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #34 on: April 22, 2008, 05:26:03 AM »
Listening this morning to the Simple Symphony played by the English String Orchestra.  Charming piece! 

I remember being quite obsessed with this piece. Haven't heard it for a long time, thanks for the reminder!

Howard

Offline Brewski

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #35 on: April 22, 2008, 05:41:35 AM »
This week I've been listening to the Simple Symphony on this CD, by Steuart Bedford and the Northern Sinfonia.  (I have its original incarnation on Collins...but it's been rereleased on Naxos.)

Great little piece, very infectious, and Bedford's version is excellent. 

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karlhenning

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #36 on: July 15, 2008, 06:48:17 AM »
Quote from: not me
Phaedra
Dramatic Cantata for Mezzo-Soprano and Small Orchestra
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Phaedra is scored for strings, harpsichord and percussion. Performance time is fifteen minutes. This is the work’s first performance by the Grant Park Orchestra.

In 1972, Benjamin Britten, not yet sixty, learned that he had a faulty heart valve, and could not expect to live long, or well, without surgery. He was then composing Death in Venice, based onThomas Mann’s novella, for his life companion and greatest interpreter, the tenor Peter Pears, and he told his doctors that he would not submit to surgery until the score was finished. The opera was sketched by the end of the year, and orchestrated and completed by March 1973. In May, Britten entered a London hospital for his surgery, but he suffered a slight stroke during the procedure and he was generally weakened and without full use of his right arm thereafter. He convalesced during the summer by reading Haydn and Eliot, and strengthened his right hand by writing letters to friends. He had to miss the premiere of Death in Venice at the Aldeburgh Festival in June, but he was cheered by good reviews for the opera and excellent ones for Pears in the role of Aschenbach. Britten was able to attend a private performance of Death in Venice in September at Aldeburgh, and he traveled to London when the opera was given at Covent Garden the following month.

By spring 1974, Britten was again up to doing some creative work, first revising his early String Quartet in D and the 1941 opera Paul Bunyan, and then composing a setting of Eliot’s “The Death of Saint Narcissus” for Pears and harpist Osian Ellis. The Suite on English Folk Tunes (“A time there was…”) followed later that year, and the cantata Phaedra, for Janet Baker, and some small vocal works in 1975. Britten was well enough by November to travel to Venice, where he was able to visit many of his favorite palaces, gardens and galleries with the help of a nurse and some devoted friends. He had begun composing his Third String Quartet, his first work in that form in thirty years, before he left England, and completed the score in Venice on November 16th. Though greatly worn down by the heat wave and drought of the summer of 1976, that year he managed to make eight new settings of folk songs for Pears and Ellis, arrange his 1950 Lachrymae (originally for viola and piano) for string orchestra, and compose a Welcome Ode for school musicians for Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee visit to Suffolk. In June, it was announced that he had been made a life peer, with the title Baron Britten of Aldeburgh. When the renowned Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich visited Britten in late November, he reported that his friend was “very sick, his hands trembling.” Britten died on December 4, 1976 at Aldeburgh.

Britten’s last work for solo voice, composed during the summer of 1975 for the celebrated English mezzo-soprano Janet Baker, took as its subject the tragic character of Phaedra, who was first threaded into the web of ancient mythology when she married the aging King Theseus. In the old tale, Hippolytus, Theseus’ son by his liaison with the Amazon woman Antiope, comes to visit his father, and Phaedra is overwhelmed to the point of madness with love for her stepson. Hippolytus, however, has foresworn absolutely the love of women, and he pays Phaedra not the slightest notice. The plight of Phaedra, ravaged by guilt but unable to conquer her lust, becomes known to her faithful old nurse, Oenone, who pleads with Hippolytus to requite her mistress’ passion. Hippolytus recoils from Oenone in horror, insisting that he would never betray either his father or his vow to shun romantic love. Phaedra, having witnessed this scene, swallows poisons and then confesses both her lust and Hippolytus’ innocence to Theseus before falling dead at her outraged husband’s feet.

The tragedy of Phaedra was the last subject that the celebrated French dramatist Jean Racine (1639-1699) took up before attacks by his rivals forced his retirement from the theater in 1677; Phèdre is generally regarded as his masterpiece. Britten drew the text for his “dramatic cantata”from the 1961 English translation of Racine’s play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Robert Lowell (1917-1977). Phaedra takes its form — a prologue followed by two paired recitatives and arias — from the Italian Baroque cantata for solo voice and accompaniment, though its style, sensitivity to text and drama, and expressive immediacy are distinctly the work of Britten. Phaedra was acclaimed at its premiere at the Aldeburgh Festival on June 16, 1976. Edward Greenfield, music critic of The Guardian, called it “an opera in microcosm,” and Peter Stadlen of The Daily Telegraph wrote that it “demonstrates to what extent a sacrifice in sheer length and explicitness is possible in the arts without loss of depth.”
« Last Edit: July 15, 2008, 07:07:34 AM by karlhenning »

Offline zamyrabyrd

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #37 on: July 15, 2008, 07:05:18 AM »
Very interesting...did you write that, er, extemporaneously?

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karlhenning

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #38 on: July 15, 2008, 07:07:06 AM »
Very interesting...did you write that, er, extemporaneously?

Oh, it's not mine, ZB! The title at the start of the post has a link to the source.

Offline Brewski

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #39 on: July 16, 2008, 08:01:49 AM »
Phaedra
Dramatic Cantata for Mezzo-Soprano and Small Orchestra
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)


One of my best, and slightly sad memories, is hearing this piece with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson a few years ago with Sir Colin Davis and the New York Philharmonic--on my birthday.  :'(  It was the first time I'd ever heard it.  Needless to say, she was marvelous.  From Alex Ross's tribute to her in The New Yorker:

When she sang Britten’s cantata "Phaedra" at the New York Philharmonic, she froze listeners in their seats with her high monotone chant of the words "I stand alone."

--Bruce
"Do you realize that we're meteorites; almost as soon as we're born, we have to disappear?"

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Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY