This DVD of the recently issued Britten/Pears mini series recorded by the BBC for television way back in the 1960's and the 70's is for all intents and purposes another resounding success. All four priceless documents were thought lost, but this Idomeneo seems to have had a charmed life more than others. Indeed, three days before the Aldeburgh première, the hall was left in cinders and it is something of a miracle that the television production could actually go ahead. First broadcast in May 1970, critics and viewers alike were unanimous in their praise. Sung in English to a version prepared by Maisie and Evelyn Radford, Mozart's first operatic masterpiece is even more telling. A lot of credit should go to Britten himself, who not only conducted with committed ardour, but also prepared a musical edition all of his own. The staging has a classical dignity and avoids austerity altogether and both Pears and Harper give impressive performances. (Gerald Fenech)
Celebrated tenor Mark Padmore joins the Britten Sinfonia in some of the most beautiful English music for voice and orchestra. The centrepiece is Britten's magical evocation of twilight and nightfall, the 'Serenade' (with Stephen Bell, horn). In Gerald Finzi's war-time cycle 'Dies natalis', the ecstatic mood reflects a child's wide-eyed wonder at the world. Britten's poignant 'Nocturne' completes the programme.
…[an] iconic recording . . . Who but Pears could have intoned "Strange Meeting" with such spectral eeriness? Who has ever matched the furious authority of Fischer-Dieskau's "Be slowly lifted up"? Listening again reminds of just how extraordinary Vishnevskaya's voice was, too: darkly voluptuous with a core of steel. Her anguished cry of "Lacrimosa" has lost none of its visceral power…
This Britten recital combines two of the composer’s major song cycles, Winter Words, from 1953, and Who are these Children? (1969). In them he explored themes of loneliness, transcience and war – difficult and harrowing material which would test any composer, but Britten is equal to the challenge. His music works its magic by bringing out poignant emotions and subtle insights, sometimes even more vividly than the texts on their own. The music’s emotional depth is grounded in compelling, quasi-naturalistic sound images, such as the whistling, rattling train in the setting of Thomas Hardy’s Midnight on the Great Western. Providing a lighter note between these gripping works are four settings of poems by Robert Burns, containing some of Britten’s most deft and delicate music. Composed on the request of Queen Elizabeth II in 1975, they originally formed part of a set of six songs for high voice and harp, and were later arranged for piano by Britten’s assistant Colin Matthews.
"This recording captures the intimacy of the piece; it is as though the listener is in church hearing the monks process past and reliving the story with them. Peter Pears is remarkably moving in the difficult role of the Madwoman, ably supported by singers and instrumentalists alike."Simon Whalley, 1001 classical recordings you must hear before you die
This Collector's Edition presents a challenge to reviewers. There's so much of it. I could never do it any sort of justice if I approached this as if reviewing a smaller set. This, after all, comprises 37 CDs. As it is all I have been able to do is to sample, reminisce about known recordings and write around the subject. With this caveat stated, let's make a start.
There are three principal strands of Britten recordings. These are broadly tied into and defined by record companies, artists and eras. First we have Britten recording Britten for Decca.
Here is Death in Venice in high Visconti style, ravishingly designed in greys and silver blues, and inimitably Italian in the classical elegance of its settings. No other production of this opera has so successfully transported the audience through a series of fully conceived sets – starting out from a graveyard built of piles of books, along the Grand Canal, checking in to a black-and-white marble hotel, and then out on to the beach, where the games of Apollo take place under the gaze of the god’s giant statue.