Five Britten highlights on Radio 3 this weekend

What to tune into over the centenary weekend

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Britten and Pears outside Snape Maltings concert hallBritten and Pears 1969 in front of Snape Maltings Concert Hall - photo by Hans Wild

We’re heading to Suffolk this weekend to join the celebrations to mark Benjamin Britten’s centenary.

But even if you can’t get to Aldeburgh itself, this weekend’s Radio 3 schedule is packed with performances of Britten’s greatest music and in-depth features and discussions about the great British composer’s life and works. Here are five programmes we think shouldn’t be missed.

1. Centenary Concert; Friday 22 November; 7.30pm
Oliver Knussen conducts a concert in Snape Maltings Concert Hall on the day that would have been Britten’s 100th birthday. Knussen himself knew Britten, and he went on to become artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival – so who better to conduct an evening of Britten’s works? The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus – along with the Choirs of Norwich School, Norwich High School for Girls and the Norwich Cathedral Choristers – perform Britten’s Cantata Academica, the Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes and the Spring Symphony. In between, there’s the world premiere of Ryan Wigglesworth’s Locke’s Theatre. The evening’s soloists are soprano Claire Booth, mezzo Monica Groop, tenor Robert Murray and baritone Christopher Purves.

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2. CD Review; Saturday 23 November; 9am
John Bridcut – film maker and Britten expert – joins Andrew McGregor for a special Britten-centric edition of Radio 3’s CD Review. Broadcast live from Snape Maltings, the programme will look at the recorded legacy of the Aldeburgh Festival and include excerpts from Britten’s own performances. And, of course, McGregor will be looking back over some of the best Britten recordings to have been issued in this, his centenary year.

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3. Singing for Britten; Saturday 23 November; 12.15pm
Throughout his life, Britten worked with amateur singers and children, it was a central part of his belief that music should be ‘useful, and to the living’. John Bridcut, who sang as a student for Britten in a 1971 recording of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, talks to amateur singers from Suffolk about the experience of singing for the great composer and meets up with some of his fellow Elgar singers from all those years ago…

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4. Britten String Quartets; Sunday 23 November; 11am
Ensemble 360 tackle Britten’s Chamber music in this live broadcast of a concert from Snape Maltings Concert Hall. In this – the third of a Britten String Quartets series over the weekend – violinists Benjamin Nabarro and Claudia Ajmone-Marsan are joined by viola player Krzysztof Chorzelski and cellist Gemma Rosefield to perform Britten’s Three Divertimenti, his String Quartet No. 1 in D major and Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor.

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5. Albert Herring; Saturday 23 November; 6.50pm
Radio 3 turns its attention to London for one performance this weekend, and it’s a live broadcast of Britten’s comic opera Albert Herring live from London’s Barbican. The opera tells the story of the search for a suitably virtuous May Queen in a Suffolk town. Despairing at the lax morals of the town girls, Lady Billows instead turns her attention to Albert, who is named May King. Steuart Bedford conducts a cast led by tenor Andrew Staples. The cast also includes soprano Christine Brewer, mezzo-soprano Gaynor Keeble and baritone Roderick Williams.

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