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Britten To America

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Conductor: Mark Elder, Jeffrey Skidmore
  • Composer: Benjamin Britten
  • Audio CD (9 Dec. 2013)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: NMC Recordings
  • ASIN: B00FQJHLX4
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 134,173 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Product Description

Product Description

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.

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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This may be mainly for the Britten fan or completest, as NMC release some more little or unknown BB material. It's a curious mixture of music and dialogue and you probably would not listen to it all in one sitting. The pieces were recorded for the BBC after Britten and Pears return from America in 1942. It is well recorded and performed but not full on Britten although glimpses of his genius do shine through. I love Brittens music so I'm biased, and would want this in my collection.
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I'm not familiar with any of the music on this disc, except the setting of "Stop All the Clocks",later arranged as a cabaret number, which is here heard in its original choral form as part of "The Ascent of F6". These pieces were all written as incidental music to plays or radio programmes, and they have the simplicity and vigour that good incidental music needs. I must confess that I prefer this aspect of Britten to most of his more ambitious/pretentious works. These pieces are performed by two main sets of musicians: Ex Cathedra conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore, and the Halle conducted by S'Mark Elder. All bring complete commitment to the music.
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THE CD IS A GEM BY THE THREE HOMOSEXUAL GENIUS'S OF THEIR GENERATION.BRITTEN,AUDEN AND ISHERWOOD.MANY RECORDED FOR THE FIRST TIME.THE QUALITY OF THE RECORDING AND PERFORMERS IS TOP NOTCH.HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some first-time recordings of Britten's incidental music for wartime radio 26 Dec. 2013
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
While they were alive Britten and Stravinsky had the rare privilege of conducting their complete output on disc - but there are always gaps. For whatever reason, Britten didn't record some of his scores written for the BBC, from which this CD brings usprograms aimed largely at American and Canadian audiences. . All the music is largely unheard since the 1940s, and sometimes it's quite entertainingly jazzy. Having returned home in 1942 and successfully registered as a conscientious objector, the composer regained his footing musically, quickly composing the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings and preparing for his great breakthrough with Peter Grimves.

But the music he composed for the BBC occupies the fringes of his output. Here's the program performed here:

Roman Wall Blues
An American In England: Women of Britain
Britain to America: Where do we go from here?
On the Frontier: Incidental music
The Ascent of F6: Incidental music

By far the most extensive score (17 separate tracks) is the incidental music for a radio broadcast of a play written by W. H. Auden and Christopher Ishwerwood in 1936, The Ascent of F6. At least oneauthority has described it as `a substantial score', that Britten wrote with `iron self-discipline' following the news of the tragically early death of his mother. It includes the Funeral Blues, now often performed as part of the group of cabaret songs. Hearing this collection of musical items and scattered text is totally bewildering. Some of the words are verse, others dialogue. The musical idiom ranges from ragtime piano to Tibetan-like chants. Each bit is fun, but the whole is all but impossible to figure out - one can see why Britten didn't want to record his score without the entire play. But the one lasting number, Funeral blues, here a choral number but usually sung as a solo, is set to Auden's great elegy, which begins,

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

You may remember it as a moving speech in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. As for the plot of this "tragedy in two acts," an Amazon review of the printed play says, "F6 is a mountain dividing two regions in Sudoland, a fictional land known for its coffee trade. Great Britain, which has kept a stronghold over the native population for decades, now finds itself threatened by Ostnia, a rival nation that occupies some of the territory. Wanting to make a political statement, both countries aim to scale F6, a rock face thought insurmountable. Local legend has the mountain occupied by a demon that makes it impossible for any person to climb. The Ostnians are using this tale to their advantage, telling natives that the first White man to climb F6 will rule all of Sudoland for a thousand years." the idiom is experimental, Marxist, and Freudian. The authors cannot resist satirical touches that ill suit the tragedy, but they were both flying high and fearless at age thirty.

Auden and Isherwood collaborated on a later political play in 1938, On the Frontier, (9 separate tracks) about which I can say little (my download includes no program notes), but the music is generally martial and rather halfhearted. Britten's musical contributions to an American in England, a series produced by Edward R. Murrow during the war, is represented by 11 tracks, each introduced by a snippet of reportage from London during the war. Britten said that he wanted his music to "serve the living," an ethic that overrode his opposition to war in this case. Here the speaker sounds too comfy and not at all like someone reporting the agonies of combat. the two remaining numbers, roman Wall Blues and Where Do We Go From Here? are songs in the same cabaret vein as Funeral Blues and almost as good as it. the brevity of each track can be seen from the fact that 43 tracks fit on a single 78 min. CD.

The musical performers are all quite good, and the NMC label apparently has produced three other programs of rare and lost Britten scores, mostly of this ilk. It's a nice gift to Britten's devoted following in his centenary year, but not much here deserves more than one listen.

Huw Watkins (piano), Samuel West (narrator), Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Jean Rigby (mezzo soprano) & Mary Carewe (mezzo soprano)
Ex Cathedra & Hallé, Sir Mark Elder & Jeffrey Skidmore
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating "historical" look at works of Benjamin Britten 13 May 2014
By Warren Harris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Britten is most certainly one of the most amazing contemporary composers from the early part of the 20th century. This disc focuses on music that he wrote for Radio and Theatre - which needless to say is rather a different medium than one encounters in a traditional symphonic setting. However, this medium and its requirements gives unique insights into the snippets of sounds and concepts that form a composer's toolbox of go-to musical building blocks, and the disc is fascinating in that respect.

The first piece, "The Ascent of F6", is the most atonal of the three and definitely provides insight into Britten's musical language when certain melodic constraints are not of paramount importance. Stark contrast is provided by "An American in England", written for a six part series broadcast in 1942 to inform the American public about conditions and the wartime effort in England - this features much patriotic and charming sounding music reminiscent of that period of time, and shows the versatility of Britten's ability in the medium. A short piece called "Roman Wall Blues" follows, featuring gorgeous vocal lines from Mary Carewe (mezzo-soprano) that for this listener was worth the price of the disc all by itself. "On the Frontier", which follows next, is music for a play that also keeps the wartime theme. The musical selections are generally in the 1 to 2 minute time range, and Britten definitely grabs the listener's attention even given that short period of time. The last piece, called "Where do we go from here?" again features Mary Carewe's lovely voice.

The liner notes are predominately historical in nature, and are a fascinating read. In fact, this single CD with liner notes is one of the most informative that I possess in my collection. If you are interested at all in the works and melodic evolution of Britten, I would definitely recommend this recording.
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