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Customer Review

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The benefits of collaboration, 19 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: Britten: The Complete Works (Decca box set) (Audio CD)
This is a huge collaborative effort, between 20 or so labels, in service of one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. At far as absolute completeness is concerned, this isn't quite achieved. There are lots of very early pieces included, but there are lots of bits of juvenilia yet to be recorded. Also, the Purcell Realisations aren't here, and neither are the incidental music scores for King Arthur / The World of the Spirit (available from Hyperion and Chandos respectively). But the point is we aren't likely to see anything as comprehensive as this again.

It's very nicely put together. The main 200 page book (all in English) contains an introduction and a few memoirs of life with Britten, followed by a gallery of original LP designs and relevant pictures and bits of memorabilia - a visual history of Britten's recording career. For me, the more interesting notes come in the individual booklets accompanying the various sections. These are newly written by Andrew Huth, and are well worth reading. There are no texts except where the language set is not English (or Latin), where original texts and translations are provided. I've no idea why, in a set of this scope, the words could not have been included on PDF files.

And the music is wonderful, of course. Obviously no-one considering this box is likely to be unfamiliar with Britten's uniquely compelling sound world. Where possible, Britten's own recordings have been used, which is a very important point. He wrote with the voices, skills and particular humanity of his interpreters in mind. However you may feel about the voice of Peter Pears, for example, he always sounds absolutely right in this music. This hasn't been blindly applied for every piece however. For example, the early song cycle 'Our Hunting Fathers' is included in a later recording by Elizabeth Söderström, justified by a quote from Britten wondering if she wouild available for his recording, as the cycle really works better with a soprano. Even here, Britten's recording with Pears is included on one of the supplementary disks. There has been some real thought and care taken over this set. It is rounded off by four disks, including an aural documentary, the War Requiem rehearsal sequences and other performances (historic and otherwise) which add value to the whole endeavour.

Ths is a rare opportunity for those who love this composer to own a definitive document of his musical life.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Jun 2013, 13:27:17 BST
An excellent and most helpful post. Thank you. I have decided to place an order for this.

Posted on 14 Aug 2013, 14:39:10 BST
KJ says:
I was going to comment that the Purcell Realisations are missing but you've already done so in your excellent overview of this impressive set. I wonder why the Hyperion recordings could not have been included?

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Sep 2013, 13:38:09 BST
It is of course regrettable that the text where the language set is English is not provided. But there exists a beautiful book "Benjamin Britten's Poets" which contains everything operas excepted. A happy addition to this box set. Benjamin Britten's Poets

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Sep 2013, 19:22:39 BST
R. Yeatman says:
Absolutely - it's a book that's been on my shelf for years and has come down more often since I received this set. Of course, it doesn't have the librettos to the operas or dramatic pieces. Incidentally, Decca's Director of Catalogue has addressed the question of texts very fairly in a thread on the US Amazon page for this product:


In reply to an earlier post on 4 Sep 2013, 11:34:50 BST
Thank you very much for this link, I'll put it also on the French page of the product where a similar discussion about the text took place.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Sep 2013, 12:03:53 BST
All the opera libretti, except Gloriana, Paul Bunyan and church parables, can be found here :
And Paul Bunyan here, thanks to the generosity of Chandos :

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2013, 15:46:18 GMT
There is a wonderful book on the Britten operas that includes the librettos which you did not mention (maybe it is new to you). It is not cheap but I bought a copy a few years ago when I purchased the Britten conducts Britten Decca box sets, which had no librettos either. Title: The Operas of Benjamin Britten edited by David Herbert. The copy I bought was the 1989 version as published by New Amsterdam in New York. It includes illustrations of the first productions, essays by Andrew Porter, Janet Baker and others. Also detailed info on each premiere staging- singers, place of performance, etc. Link:
Also, the Claire Seymour book with the same title looks to be of interest although I don't have a copy myself.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jan 2014, 14:31:37 GMT
The following ISBN seem to point to different editions of the same book and some of them are not expensive (1st price: £10.50), but one should be careful and ask the seller if it is the right book, with the complete librettos.
9780871569080 9781871569087 9780241102565 9780941533713
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