Friday 14 September 2012

Britten 100: broadcast, film, dvd and cd

Britten is being celebrated extensively next year on TV, radio and film as well as DVD. Tony Palmer is adding to his substantial back catalogue of films on Britten with a new film for Sky Arts, and four of his classics come out on DVD, plus a new film from Tony Britten on Benjamin Britten's pacifism. The BBC will be doing sterling work on TV (with a remastering of Owen Wingrave) and on Radio 3, with the broadcast of all of Britten's operas. ICA Classics will be releasing two DVD's, one of which includes rare footage of Britten conducting scenes from Gloriana, a work he never recorded in the studio. And a 40 CD boxed set from Decca of all of Britten's recordings of his own works.

Sky Arts are celebrating Britten's centenary in November 2013 with a new film from director Tony Palmer. The new film, Nocturne, is the completion of a trilogy of works about Britten that Palmer has produced. Nocturne along with the other two, documentary A Time there Was and film of the opera Death in Venice, will all be broadcast on Sky Arts. Nocturne explores Britten's uneasy relationship with the wider world. It focuses on the song cycle, Nocturne, in a specially filmed performance by the English Chamber Orchestra, and uses this to explore the man himself. Palmer has spoken to a number of Britten's close friends and the result is, for Palmer, a very personal film.

Over on the BBC, there is to be a year of celebrations. Starting in January with a broadcast of Billy Budd from ENO, BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting every one of Britten's operas. There will be a series of concerts from BBC Hoddinott Hall, featuring the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in Britten concertos, plus the Piano Concerto from the Barbican with Benjamin Grosvenor (conducted by Andrew Litton), and the Spring Symphony from St David's Hall conducted by David Atherton. Donald Runnicles will be conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in the Sinfonia da Requiem. BBC Radio 3 will also be featuring Britten's music in many of its other broadcast strands.

Rare archive interviews and performances will be broadcast; BBC Four will be showing classic documentaries and performances, including some rare interviews Britten gave to the BBC. Owen Wingrave will be broadcast on BBC Four in a remastering of the original TV broadcast.

For the birthday weekend itself (22-24 November 2013), the BBC Symphony Orchestra will celebrate with two concerts at Snape Maltings and a semi-staged performance of Albert Herring from the Barbican with Christine Brewer as Lady Billows and Andrew Staples as Albert, conducted by Steuart Bedford. On Remembrance Sunday, the BBC Symphony Orchestra will perform the War Requiem at the Albert Hall, with a fascinating cast - Marina Poplavskaya, Andrew Kennedy and Roderick Williams conducted by Semyon Bychkov

The Proms will also be marking the centenary, further details in April 2013.

Tony Palmer's films on Britten also feature in a new DVD boxed set from Isolde Films. Benjamin Britten and his festival, made in 1967 offers a behind the scenes look at Aldeburgh and has not been seen for 40 years! The Burning Fiery Furnace is also from 1967 and is about the filming of the church parable with Britten conducting Pears, Shirley-Quirk and Robert Tear. It is the longest single piece of film of Britten working. Death in Venice was made on location in Venice in 1981 and has not been seen for 30 years. Palmer was asked to make the film by Pears after Britten's death and it features Steuart Bedford conducting many of the original cast, but with Robert Gard taking Pears' role. A Time there was made again at the request of Pears in 1979 is newly remastered in wide-screen stereo and features numerous of Britten's friends, brother and sisters as well as Pears himself. Further information from the Benjamin Britten DVD website.

Musician and film maker Tony Britten has produced a film called Britten - Peace and Conflict which seeks to address the composer's life-long pacifism. Tony Britten tells the story witha  combination of drama, performance, interview and archive, with dramatic portrayals of Britten's time as a pupil at Gresham's School in Norfolk, where is pacifist tendencies grew in the liberal school atmosphere. Fascinatingly, Britten's contemporaries at the school included James Klugmann, the British Communist Party historian and the spy, Donald MacLean. Singers James Gilchrist and Jake Arditti, pianist Iain Burnside and the Benyounes String Quartet, are joined by actor Alex Lawther. John Hurt narrates and appears in the film. Further details from the Benjamin Britten film website.

The film premieres on 9 February 2013 at Gresham's School as part of an event which features Paul Kildea's new biography (which will be the subject of another post).

At the BFI Southbank they are developing a programme in association with the Britten Pears Foundation. It will include screenings of the classic documentaries from the 1930's, Coal Face and Night Mail,plus other material and live events.

The independent label, ICA Classics, is releasing two DVD's. The first, released in September 2012, features a Britten conducting Pears and the English Chamber Orchestra in 1964 in a Mozart's Symphony no. 40 and Nocturne. Plus two movements from Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony recorded in 1970. Then in October 2012, there is another film from 1964 with Rostropovich in the Tchakovsky Roccoco Variations and Romeo Juliet Overture, plus archive footage from 1970 of Pears in three scenes from Gloriana, a rare opportunity to hear Britten conduct a work he never recorded. 

Decca are releasing a huge 40 CD box set of Britten performing Britten. Britten had a long relationship with Decca and recorded for them for over three decades. His recordings of his own works forming a unique reference work; an essential set for most people I would think. There is also a 12 CD set of Britten as performer in works by other composers.

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