Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem
The Gramophone Choice
Coupled with Gloriana – Symphonic Suite, Op 53 Various composers Variations on an Elizabethan Theme (Sellinger’s Round) Purcell King Arthur – Chaconne (arr Herbage)
Peter Pears ten SWR Symphony Orchestra / Benjamin Britten
Hänssler Classic mono CD94 213 (67’ · ADD) Recorded 1956. Buy from Amazon
In the winter of 1956 the recently founded Südwestfunk invited Britten to conduct its radio orchestra, following in the footsteps of Stravinsky, Hindemith and Copland. Although three years had passed since Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the programme included two works related to the event. The major interest lies in the first of these, the Symphonic Suite from Gloriana, as we have only previously had the ‘Courtly Dances’ with Britten conducting. As if to scotch any lingering suggestion that this ill-received work might be consigned to his bottom drawer, Britten leads a performance that is full of life. Peter Pears puts in a brief appearance singing the Lute Song in the second movement.
The other coronation work is the Variations on an Elizabethan Theme, Sellinger’s Round, for which six English composers submitted variations at Britten’s invitation. A recording of the public premiere from the 1953 Aldeburgh Festival has been circulated but it is good to have this one, not least for the expressive eloquence Britten seeks to elicit from his players in Tippett’s deeply conceived ‘A Lament’. The remainder of the programme contains an alternative performance of the Sinfonia da Requiem to the well known Decca recording, with scrawny strings but persuasively shaped, and a grand account in traditional style of the closing Chaconne from Purcell’s King Arthur. The recording quality is acceptably clean 1950s mono. Not riches, perhaps, but a welcome surprise.