Various Artists

Britten to America: Music for Radio and Theatre

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AllMusic Review by

It's very hard to tell from the packaging what one is getting with this group of hitherto unrecorded music by Benjamin Britten. The subtitle "Music for Radio and Theatre" is ambiguous; included are two sets of incidental music for plays and one group of excerpts from a six-part radio series, An American in England, that is less a drama than a propaganda broadcast. (There are also two blues songs as intermezzi, one of them drawn from a lost larger work.) The title Britten to America is downright inaccurate; none of the music was written during Britten's stint in the U.S. during the first part of World War II, and the two pieces of theatrical incidental music, The Ascent of F6 and On the Frontier, were composed in 1936 and 1937, before he had any idea he'd be crossing the Atlantic. They have nothing to do with America; one is about mountaineering, while the other is an allegorical treatment of the rise of fascism. So, for those interested in an album exploring Britten's relationship with the American scene, this is not one. If a collection of Britten ephemera is appealing, though, give this a listen. Britten's music is colorful in its scene-setting and shows off his gift for capturing a range of vernacular sounds without writing what would now be called crossover music. The Ascent of F6, whose scoring includes the unlikely duo of ukulele and percussion, is an especially enjoyable example with its inclusion of cabaret jazz, blues, a chorale, and a funeral march, all filtered through Britten's sensibility. The singers of the vocal octet Ex Cathedra and the Hallé Orchestra under Mark Elder give the music the spontaneity and the slightly under-rehearsed quality it would have had in its original performances, and the results are fresh. Recommended for Britten fans.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
The Ascent of F6
1 4:05
2 0:46
3 1:20
4 5:05
5 2:06
6 2:06
7 1:30
8 1:01
9 0:24
10 0:34
11 0:35
12 1:40
13 0:52
14 0:49
15 3:18
16 4:23
17 2:18
An American in England
18 1:24
19 1:20
20 1:16
21 2:42
22 1:51
23 3:19
24 0:43
25 1:22
26 1:29
27 0:30
28 1:40
29 2:23
On the Frontier
30 0:50
31 1:24
32 4:07
33 2:10
34 0:38
35 0:26
36 1:08
37 1:23
38 0:25
39 4:33
40 0:52
41 2:52
42 2:33
Britain to America, music for 3 radio programs, for orchestra
43 2:06
blue highlight denotes track pick