Throughout Britten’s public career as the leading opera and song composer of his age, there have appeared, from time to time, small-scale works composed for more intimate occasions – the wedding anniversary of friends, for instance, a BBC feature program, songs for children, a chorus for a prisoner-of-war choir and – for his own use – individual folk song arrangements as modest encores to a song recital. The specific occasions for which these pieces were written are of no more than documentary interest; their musical value, however, claims the attention of every admirer of Britten’s art, for the composer has always lavished his full powers on the smallest undertaking and brought distinction to the homeliest genre. Louis Halsey and the Elizabeth Singers recorded a number of these smaller-scale pieces in 1964. Two folk song settings, O can ye sew cushions and The Salley Gardens, were not included on the Argo LP, instead issued separately, the next year, on an EP, together with Old Abram Brown and Oliver Cromwell. All four settings are included on this disc. Completing this collection are the Hymn to the Virgin (an early work, composed in 1930 and revised four years later) and the Missa Brevis, written to mark the retirement of George Malcolm as organist and choirmaster of Westminster Cathedral. Although Britten himself recorded the work for Decca, this is a rare and much sought-after ‘live’ recording made during Mass at Westminster Cathedral in January 1960. It was issued on a 45rpm EP record.
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BENJAMIN BRITTEN 1-5 Five Flower Songs, Op. 47 6-7 Two Partsongs 8 Chorale (after an old French carol) 9 A Shepherd’s Carol 10 The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard 11-18 Choral Dances from Gloriana 19 Old Abram Brown 20 Oliver Cromwell 21 O Can Ye Sew Cushions? 22 The Salley Gardens Elizabethan Singers Wilfrid Parry, piano Louis Halsey
23 Hymn to the Virgin London Symphony Chorus George Malcolm
24 Missa Brevis, Op. 63 Westminster Cathedral Choir George Malcolm