Benjamin Britten: Britten to America

Benjamin Britten: Britten to America

NMC Recordings
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What better way to mark the end of 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 blues numbers, jazz, a 'Tibetan' chant, a Bach chorale and even a ukulele player.

Britten made the hazardous journey from the United States back to England in the spring of 1942. Within a few weeks he had face 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 major scores for radio propaganda programmes, including An American in England, six programmes about wartime conditions in England produced by the BBC for live transmission in the USA by CBS; and Britain to America, three programmes as part of a weekly transmission by NBC.

Music from these two series is accompanied by incidental music to two plays by Auden and Isherwood: The Ascent of F6 and On the Frontier; and Roman Wall Blues, from a lost radio production with Auden, Hadrian's Wall.

Samuel West narrator
Andrew Kennedy tenor
Jean Rigby mezzo soprano
Mary Carewe mezzo soprano
Ex Cathedra / Jeffrey Skidmore conductor
Mervyn Cooke, Lucy Walker piano
Matthew Dickinson percussion
Huw Watkins piano
Harry Ogg assistant conductor
Hallé / Sir Mark Elder conductor




'All the participants are excellent, especially actor Samuel West playing a portrait gallery of characters, and NMC's production standards are impeccable, rolling together spoken word, choruses and instruments so that the seams never show. A disc of incidental music should not be as much fun' Gramophone

'Discoveries of underexplored corners of his output [and] intriguing disc.’ The New York Times

'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' BBC Radio 3 CD Review

'We need to know this music – this tells us so much about the development of this composer, about where his musical voice comes from ... the performances are superb and the recording frames them beautifully.' BBC Radio 3 CD Review

'The actor Samuel West is also on hand, to deliver a gripping speech from the play. Ex Cathedra, a vocal octet under Jeffrey Skidmore, are entirely convincing, here as throughout.' International Record Review

'This album features music that will surprise even the most ardent Britten devotee.' Gramophone

‘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. […] This is another very important enlightening addition to NMC’s ongoing exploration of the ‘unknown’ Britten.’ Classic Today

‘Fine soloists, an excellent chorus, and first-rate instrumentalists – all are highly persuasive. Narrator Sam West presents the text vividly and […] the right balance between period BBC posh and Yankee familiarity. […] Recommended especially, but not exclusively, to Britten fans.’ Fanfare

‘These stylized 2013 performances emulate the 1930s in this delightful and unusual recording revealing the young composer’s diversity of styles. The vocal octet 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

‘[…] much of the music is highly engaging. […] the performances are consistently good and this disc contains 79 minutes of music. It closes with a 1943 setting of Louis MacNeice’s Where Do We Go From Here? Soprano Mary Carewe’s full-throated delivery suggests that Britten could have written a fantastic Broadway musical.’ The Arts Desk

‘[…] The music is first rate. […] The performances are all you could ask for […]. I found it fascinating.’

‘These scores for stage and radio were composed at the height of his early, pre-Grimes powers. Plenty of food for thought and pleasure to be had here.’ BBC Music Magazine


This recording has been made with the generous support of the Britten-Pears Foundation


The Ascent of F6 and On the Frontier were recorded in the Djanogly Recital Hall, University of Nottingham, on 7 and 8 July 2013, in conjunction with the University's Britten Centenary Conference, ‘Britten on Stage and Screen’.

Recording Producer / Engineer DAVID LEFEBER
Editing & mixing DAVID LEFEBER

Roman Wall Blues was recorded in Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London on 28 April 2013.

Recording Engineer DAVID LEFEBER
Recording Producer COLIN MATTHEWS

Music from An American In England and Where do we go from here? (from Britain to America) were recorded at Hallé St Peters, Manchester on 14-15 September and Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on 3 October 2013.

Recording Engineer STEVE PORTNOI
Editing & mixing STEVE PORTNOI


(P) 2013 NMC Recordings Ltd
(C) 2013 NMC Recordings Ltd

Catalogue number: NMC D190
Release Date: 9 December 2013