Most people think of Britten primarily in terms of his operas, but he was an undisputed master of orchestral composition as well, and this CD taken from a 1990 release of the now-defunct Collins Classics is one of the really good ones in their Britten series conducted by supreme Britten conductor Steuart Bedford. It contains the suite from his coronation opera 'Gloriana,' the 'Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia' from 'Peter Grimes,' and the 'Sinfonia da Requiem.' Amazon does not as yet seem to note that this CD contains the 'Gloriana' Suite, which is probably the least-recorded of the music here, and it's a corker. Assisted by Imogen Holst, Britten concocted the suite about a year after the disappointing première of the opera before an uncomprehending audience during Elizabeth II's coronation season. It contains 'The Tournament' (a fanfare-y section full of vigor), 'The Lute Song' (a lovely Dowlandesque piece that in this recording features the inimitable harpist Osian Ellis and oboist Keiron Moore), a set of 'Courtly Dances' from Act II, and 'Gloriana Moritura,' Elizabeth I's death. The suite is a marvelous concoction because on the one hand one could not hear more than a few bars before realizing it to be Britten, and yet it is a very skillful pastiche of Elizabethan music. It is played brilliantly by the London Symphony.
The set of pieces from 'Peter Grimes' are surely among Britten's most popular works and they have been recorded many times. They are tours de force of brilliant orchestration as well as aptly setting the emotional tone for their particular scenes in the opera. Bedford and the LSO give us a marvelous performance. I honestly can't find anything to quibble about here, but recognize that many musiclovers will already have at least one recording of the 'Grimes' set.
The 'Sinfonia da Requiem' has an interesting history. It was commissioned in 1939 by the Japanese government as part of their celebration of the 2600th anniversary of the founding of Japan's imperial dynasty. In the event, it was turned down by the Japanese owing to its basis in Christian ritual. It is assumed that Britten, a staunch pacifist, knew what he was doing in writing a work that implies divine judgment (there is a section called 'Dies irae') at a time when war clouds were gathering. It was finally given its première by John Barbirolli and the New York Philharmonic in 1941. Never one of my favorite Britten works, nonetheless this committed performance by Bedford and the LSO makes a strong case for this stern and minatory work.
Although the Collins Classics issue can still be found in various places (including here at Amazon) a full price, this superbudget issue trumps it and I would suggest that anyone wanting good performances of any of these pieces, or combination of pieces, would be rewarded if they obtained this excellent reissue.