What better way to mark the end of Benjamin 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.
Nominated for a Grammy Award 2015.
‘A disc of incidental music should not be as much fun’ (Gramophone)
‘A beautifully produced CD – a real essential for anyone who wants to know more about Benjamin Britten and to get a full picture of this composer … the performances are superb and the recording frames them beautifully.’ (BBC Radio 3 CD Review)
‘Ex Cathedra, a vocal octet under Jeffrey Skidmore, are entirely convincing, here as throughout.’ (International Record Review)
‘The singers and players capture the music’s quick and clever twists and turns, creating a just-rehearsed-enough spontaneity that seems appropriate for the music.’ (Classic Today)
‘Fine soloists, an excellent chorus, and first-rate instrumentalists – all are highly persuasive.’ (Fanfare)
‘These stylized 2013 performances emulate the 1930s in this delightful and unusual recording revealing the young composer’s diversity of styles. The vocal octect Ex Cathedra is heard in the potpourri of styles from chant to brash ensemble numbers, all in state-of-the-art sound.’ (The Whole Note)
‘The music is first rate… The performances are all you could ask for … I found it fascinating.’ (Audaud.com)
‘Plenty of food for thought and pleasure to be had here.’ (BBC Music Magazine)
‘…véritable concentré d’intelligence … Britten produit des joyaux dans lesquels la distanciation critique à l’actualité, l’ironie caustique, l’imagination fantaisiste s’accompagnent d’un sens aigu de la dramaturgie et véhiculent un généreux message d’humanisme.’ (ClicMag)