Britten: Partsongs; Hymn to the Virgin; Missa Brevis
Louis Halsey; George Malcolm
Catalogue No.

Throughout Britten’s public career as the leading opera and song composer of his age, there have appeared, from time to time, small-scale works composed for more intimate occasions – the wedding anniversary of friends, for instance, a BBC feature program, songs for children, a chorus for a prisoner-of-war choir and – for his own use – individual folk song arrangements as modest encores to a song recital. The specific occasions for which these pieces were written are of no more than documentary interest; their musical value, however, claims the attention of every admirer of Britten’s art, for the composer has always lavished his full powers on the smallest undertaking and brought distinction to the homeliest genre. Louis Halsey and the Elizabeth Singers recorded a number of these smaller-scale pieces in 1964. Two folk song settings, ‘O can ye sew cushions’ and ‘The Salley Gardens’, were not included on the Argo LP, instead issued separately, the next year, on an EP, together with ‘Old Abram Brown’ and ‘Oliver Cromwell’. All four settings are included on this disc. Completing this collection are the ‘Hymn to the Virgin’ (an early work, composed in 1930 and revised four years later) and the ‘Missa Brevis’, written to mark the retirement of George Malcolm as organist and choirmaster of Westminster Cathedral. Although Britten himself recorded the work for Decca, this is a rare and much sought-after ‘live’ recording made during Mass at Westminster Cathedral in January 1960. It was issued on a 45rpm EP record.


Five Flower Songs, Op. 47
Two Partsongs
Chorale (after an old French carol)
A Shepherd’s Carol
The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard
Choral Dances from Gloriana
Old Abram Brown
Oliver Cromwell
O Can Ye Sew Cushions?
The Salley Gardens

Elizabethan Singers
Wilfrid Parry, piano
Louis Halsey

Hymn to the Virgin

London Symphony Chorus
George Malcolm

Missa Brevis, Op. 63

Westminster Cathedral Choir
George Malcolm

FIRST RELEASE ON CD (except ‘Hymn to the Virgin’)

Recording information

Recording Producers: Andrew Raeburn (Partsongs); Michael Bremner (Hymn to the Virgin); unknown (Missa Brevis)
Balance Engineers: Kenneth Wilkinson (Hymn to the Virgin); unknown (Missa Brevis)
Recording Locations: Westminster Cathedral, London, UK, January 1960 (Missa Brevis); Kingsway Hall, London, UK, May 1961 (Hymn to the Virgin); Decca Studio 3, West Hampstead, UK, April & May 1964 (Partsongs)


‘The pieces on this extremely enjoyable record roughly cover the first 20 years of Britten’s maturity … The Elizabethan Singers sing with lovely tone, splendid precision and unfailing comprehension. These are superb performances. Some of the quiet homophonic songs are splendidly done, for instance the haunting ‘Concord’ in the ‘Gloriana’ pieces but the group is equally successful at conveying stress and excitement. The recording quality is outstandingly good. I do urge you to give this lovely record a trial.’ (Halsey) Gramophone

‘The little work is full of Britten’s brilliant technical invention and imaginative insight both in the vocal and the organ parts, and is a most valuable addition to the small repertoire of really worth-while contemporary liturgical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass. … Performance and recording are very good’ (Missa Brevis) Gramophone