It might reasonably be assumed that a collection of new performances of music Benjamin Britten wrote for industrial and educational films in the mid-'30s (e.g., Men Behind the Meters for the British Commercial Gas Association) would be of interest solely to the most rabid collectors of Britteniana. The music, however, is totally charming, and while it may not rank among the composer's greatest works, its inventiveness, illustrative power, compassion, and sly wit make this CD a real pleasure. Britten recycled some of the music; the score for The Tocher, in which he developed themes by Rossini, was the basis for his Soirées Musicales and Matinées Musicales. The perky music for The King's Stamp has the sophistication to stand alone as a 10-movement suite for flute, clarinet, percussion, and piano. Negroes, a film about the eighteenth century British slave trade, with a text by W.H. Auden, uses narration that's entirely sung in expressive recitative. It's essentially a cantata accompanied by a film, and it could easily be performed on its own. Martyn Brabbins leads the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, and the boy's choir of King Edward's School, Birmingham, in splendidly lively performances. Simon Russell Beale, delivering the original texts of the voice-overs, deserves great credit for setting just the right narrative tone for each of the diverse films. Tenor Daniel Auchincloss, who sounds eerily like Peter Pears, gives a moving performance in Negroes, and soprano Mary Carewe sparkles in the brief ad for the telephone service When you're feeling like expressing your affection.
Britten on Film Review
by Stephen Eddins