"Composing is like driving down a foggy road toward a house. Slowly you see more details of the house, the color and slates and bricks, the shape of the windows. The notes are the bricks and mortar of the house. "
A Ceremony of Carols, etc
(Sioned Williams, James O'Donnell; Westminster Cathedral Choir; David Hill, conductor)
Of the many accounts of Britten's Ceremony of Carols in the catalog, this one is the best. This was the first work Britten wrote for boys' voices, and with his keen ear and extraordinary imagination, he achieved many wondrous and memorable effects. At the heart of this 1986 performance are the boys of the Westminster Cathedral Choir, obviously a well-trained group. With their outstanding intonation and hearty sound, these London boys outclass all the competition. Their singing is free and expressive, yet very disciplined, even in the triple canon of "This Little Babe," which has a way of bringing all but the most skillful groups to grief. The playing of harpist Sioned Williams is especially accomplished--she delivers a superb realization of the solo interlude based on "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"--and David Hill's direction is right on the mark. The recording, made in Westminster Cathedral, is spacious and extremely appealing, right down to the comings-and-goings of the procession and recession, both of which work beautifully. A fine sampling of Britten's other choral music, including the beautiful Missa Brevis in D, rounds out the disc. (review by Ted Libbey)
Britten: Billy Budd
(Simon Keenlyside, John Tomlinson, et al.; London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; Richard Hickox, conductor)
Hermann Melville's complex tale of innocence and "obliquity" struck a resonant chord for Benjamin Britten, who was inspired to produce one of his finest stage works (with a libretto by E.M. Forster). This is the first recording of the revised, two-act version of the opera since Britten's own--and it's also one of the best accounts ever, hands down.
(Owen Brannigan, Lauris Elms, et al; Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra)
Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes not only single-handedly revitalized the genre of English opera, but was also the most profoundly original and dramatically groundbreaking opera in this century and possibly the most significant English dramatic musical work ever written. Its subject, a misfit fisherman whose confrontation with society and its unforgiving rules leads to his ultimate destruction, was a vehicle for more important subthemes, not least of which was Britten's ongoing near-obsession with the nature of innocence and its corruption. The phenomenal impact of Grimes on audiences and performers assured Britten's place as the century's preeminent opera composer, and launched him on the path to creating many more successful stage works. This production, with Peter Pears in the role of Grimes and Britten conducting, remains the definitive recording, with an excellent performance by Pears, for whom the role was created, and fine sound. (review by David Vernier)
(Christine Goerke, Richard Clement, et al.; Washington Chorus and Orchestra; Robert Shafer, conductor
Robert Shaffer's achievement in unifying the diverse components of Britten's sometimes dark, sometimes serene vision is indeed extraordinary.