Beethoven, Mozart, Britten & A Benjamin

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Britten & A Benjamin,Mozart
LABELS: Beulah
ALBUM TITLE: Classical Music in the Forties
WORKS: Works by Beethoven, Mozart, Britten & A Benjamin
PERFORMER: Dennis Brain, Myra Hess, LSO/Malcolm Sargent, etc
CATALOGUE NO: YB 35
This appears, oddly, among Beulah’s transport nostalgia titles, but it’s a gem nevertheless. In the largely pre-TV 1940s the Central Office of Information leavened its government propaganda films with ‘improving’ cultural subjects, and so preserved images of legendary performers such as Dame Myra Hess, at her morale-raising wartime recitals in the (pictureless) National Gallery, intense but graceful in Beethoven’s Apassionata and a chunk of Mozart concerto.

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Equally poignant is Dennis Brain, early in his tragically short career, debonairly playing a Beethoven horn sonata (accompanied by Denis Matthews) and introducing the instrument, starting with a natural horn. Deservedly famous is The Instruments of the Orchestra, for which Britten created his Purcell variations. Sir Malcolm Sargent introduces the instruments as crisply as he conducts the wartime LSO (and, in a bonus audio track, Holst’s Perfect Fool).

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More ambitious but less successful is The Steps of the Ballet, a potted account of the creation of a new ballet – hilariously stilted ‘glimpses’ of choreographer, designer and others at work on what turns out to be a distinctly precious confection, though pleasantly scored (with a corking crib from Firebird!), by Arthur Benjamin. Even this, with Robert Helpmann’s ‘refayned’ introduction, evokes a different and less jaded era, and makes one wonder what other COI treasures might turn up. Picture and sound are clear if crackly throughout. Michael Scott Rohan