English composer Benjamin Britten holds a reputation as one of the most prolific figures in 20th-century music. With a massive centennial celebration held worldwide just four years ago, his legacy is still preserved today as opera houses around the world continue to stage his legendary pieces.
Britten was born on Nov. 22, 1913, and not a day has gone by where his influence isn’t seen somewhere in the classical music realm. To honor what would have been his 104th birthday, here is a list of the five best recordings under Britten’s baton.
Britten had already achieved modest success prior to the debut of “Peter Grimes,” though the 1945 premiere starring Sir Peter Pears earned both Britten and Pears renowned recognition. Two recordings exist with Britten at the podium: once in 1958 with the Royal Opera House, and another with the London Symphony Orchestra 11 years later. Both recordings feature Pears as the disturbed fisherman.
In one of Britten’s most comical operas, “Albert Herring” is also full of drama, suspense, and farce. This 1964 recording with the English Chamber Orchestra features Sir Peter Pears in the title role, alongside Sylvia Fisher, Joseph Ward, and more.
Though technically not an opera, Britten’s War Requiem is as distinguished and exciting as his fully staged compositions. The opening performance may not have been without issues, but the first recording of the piece has proved to be a lasting success. Mixed with the poetry of Wilfred Owen, the text depicts the horrors of war while switching back and forth with the traditional Latin text. This 1963 recording released by Decca Classics includes soloists Galina Vishnevskaya, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Sir Peter Pears, alongside the London Symphony Orchestra and Bach Choir.
Turn of The Screw
This 1954 recording released by Decca features those commonly seen in Britten’s recordings, such as Jennifer Vyvyan and Peter Pears. Based on the novella by Henry James, “Turn of The Screw” has maintained a cult status among 20th century operaphiles, especially during Halloween. Because who doesn’t love a good children’s ghost story?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Britten stayed mostly true to Shakespeare’s original text when composing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The opera had its world premiere at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1960, featuring Alfred Deller, Jennifer Vyvyan, George Maran, Thomas Hemsley, Marjorie Thomas, April Cantelo and, of course, Pears. This recording may be harder to come across than some other popular recordings (such as with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis), but there is truly no greater rendition than with the original cast of singers.