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Britten: Billy Budd / Britten, London SO

Album Summary

>Britten, Benjamin : Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Op. 35
>Britten, Benjamin : Songs and Proverbs of W. Blake, song cycle for baritone & piano, Op. 74
>Britten, Benjamin : Billy Budd, Op. 50
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

Gramophone Classical Music Guide
Billy Budd is remarkable in having been composed for male voices, yet not once is there any lack of colour or variety. Britten marvellously supports the tenor, baritone and bass voices with extraordinary flair in the use of brass and woodwind. This was the last operatic recording John Culshaw produced for Decca and he again showed himself unsurpassed at creating a theatrical atmosphere in the studio. Although there have been several striking and brilliant stage productions of this opera in recent years, not to mention Nagano's recording, it must also be said that both technically and interpretatively this Britten/Culshaw collaboration represents the touchstone for any that follows it, particularly in the matter of Britten's conducting.

Where Britten is superb is in the dramatic tautness with which he unfolds the score and his unobtrusive highlighting of such poignant detail as the use of the saxophone after the flogging.

But most of all, he focuses with total clarity on the intimate human drama against the background of life aboard the ship.

And what a cast he had, headed by Peter Pears as Vere, conveying a natural authoritarianism which makes his unwilling but dutiful role as 'the messenger of death' more understandable, if no more agreeable. Peter Glossop's Billy Budd is a virile performance, with nothing of the 'goody-goody' about him. Nor is there any particular homo-eroticism about his relationship with Michael Langdon's black-voiced Claggart: it's a straight conflict between good and evil, and all the more horrifying for its stark simplicity.

Add to these principals John Shirley-Quirk, Bryan Drake and David Kelly as the officers, Owen Brannigan as Dansker and Robert Tear and Benjamin Luxon in the small roles of the novice and his friend, and the adjective 'classic' can be applied to this recording with a clear conscience. Also on the discs are two of Britten's most sombre song cycles, the Donne Sonnets and the Blake Songs and Proverbs, the former with Pears, the latter with Fischer-Dieskau, and both incomparably accompanied by Britten. They make ideal complements to Billy Budd. This is without doubt a vintage set.

Penguin Guide
Britten himself has an outstanding cast, with Glossop a bluff, heroic Billy and Langdon a sharply dark-toned Claggart, making these symbol-figures believable. Magnificent sound, and the many richly imaginative strokes - atmospheric as well as dramatic - are superbly managed.


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Works Details

>Britten, Benjamin : Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Op. 35
  • Performers: Benjamin Britten (Piano); Peter Pears
  • Running Time: 22 min. 36 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 1945

>Britten, Benjamin : Songs and Proverbs of W. Blake, song cycle for baritone & piano, Op. 74
  • Performers: Benjamin Britten (Piano); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
  • Notes: Composition written: 1965.
  • Running Time: 22 min. 21 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 1965

>Britten, Benjamin : Billy Budd, Op. 50
  • Performers: David Bowman (Baritone); Robert Bowman (Voice); Owen Brannigan (Bass); Delme Bryn-Jones (Baritone); Henry Bush (Voice); Geoffrey Coleby (Bass); Gregory Dempsey (Tenor); Bryan Drake (Baritone); Eric Garrett (Voice); Peter Glossop (Baritone); David Kelly (Voice); Michael Langdon (Bass); Norman Lumsden (Bass); Benjamin Luxon (Voice); James Newby (Voice); Peter Pears (Voice); David Reed (Voice); John Shirley-Quirk (Baritone); Robert Tear (Tenor); Nigel Vocal] (Tenor)
  • Conductor: Benjamin Britten
  • Ensemble: Ambrosian Opera Chorus
  • Running Time: 5 min. 1 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Form: Opera/Operetta
  • Written: 1951