In case I haven’t previously made it obvious, 2013 is the 100th birthday of the composer Benjamin Britten, whose music moves me more than any other.
Lots of things are happening this year to mark the occasion -including what looks like a brilliant exhibition at the British Library which runs until the end of July (and which I shall therefore miss).
In addition, the Royal Mint is promising to release a 50p piece in his honour later this year, and I’m in the queue to buy one. Meanwhile, Decca have re-released all their recordings of his music (usually under his baton), and have collaborated with a bunch of other labels to get their hands on recordings of pieces they never quite got around to recording themselves. The results are the new Decca Britten Complete Works collection of 66 CDs pictured here.
I have just signed up for a shipment, though I believe I have every one of his works already, with the sole exception of his Op. 75, Voices for Today (which I’ve heard, and didn’t much like). Nevertheless, the new set is worth getting because Decca have re-engineered the War Requiem recordings from 1966. The original CD transfer was very good, but a little “hissy”, and I shall be interested to hear whether the new engineering is significantly better or worse.
Delivery is due mid-July (for a suspiciously low £3.85), so I am looking forward to that immensely.
I hear the BBC are broadcasting live from Aldeburgh (Britten’s home town) on the night of November 22nd (the actual birth-date), which is interesting because we’re going to be in Aldeburgh that evening and I wasn’t aware of any concerts we could book. I shall have to look again.
If I had several million pounds to spare, I think a few of them would be easily spent on a manuscript score of Peter Grimes. I’d love to hire the London Symphony Orchestra for a couple of hours, too, to conduct the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and the Peter Grimes Sea Interludes. Will never happen, of course… but a man can dream.
If you don’t know any of Britten’s music, I energetically urge you to listen to some of it (Op. 33, Op. 16, Op. 31, Op. 71, Op. 64, Op. 50, Op. 88 and Op. 93 come particularly recommended). It is strange, wonderful, technically superb stuff. It challenges, but never insults. It is generous and repays listening with compound interest. I would never want to live without Bach or Stravinsky, but I would never want to have been born into a world without Britten, either.