Five essential works by Benjamin Britten

We choose the greatest pieces by the great British composer

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Ceremony of Carols

Composed in 1942 while Britten was crossing the Atlantic from America, its unusual scoring of treble voices and harp present a range of serene, exhilarating and ecstatic settings of medieval carols.

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Recommended recording:
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/David Willcocks
Classics for Pleasure 968 9492

Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings

This was Britten’s first major work on returning to England. The calm pastoral of its opening song revealed a new vein in his music.

Recommended recording:
Peter Pears (tenor), Barry Tuckwell (horn); English Chamber Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
Decca 436 3952

Peter Grimes

The première secured Britten’s international fame and the opera testifies to Britten’s masterful sense of drama.

Recommended recording:
Peter Pears; Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
Decca 467 6822

War Requiem

Written for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, Britten juxtaposed the Requiem Mass with poems by Wilfred Owen.

Recommended recording:
Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Bach Choir; LSO/Benjamin Britten
Decca 475 7511

Suite on English Folk Tunes

Britten admired Grainger more than Vaughan Williams, and this is evident in his by turns quirky and brooding suite.

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Recommended recording:
Bournemouth SO/Richard Hickox
Chandos CHAN 9221