Britten Rarities
Various Artists
Catalogue No.

This collection brings together rarities and surprises from the Decca/Argo Britten discography, a collection notable as much for the infrequency with which much of this music is performed as it is for the fact that many of these are world-premiere recordings of Britten’s music. The source material itself is extremely rare and virtually every recording represented here is, in its LP/EP format, a collector’s item, largely from the Argo catalogue. The all-vocal program opens with ‘Voices for Today’ which Britten wrote to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. His devotion to excellent music for children is represented by a collection of songs, including five from ‘Friday Afternoons’, sung by the boy alto, John Hahessy. It was Hahessy who was chosen over Norma Procter to sing the alto part in Britten’s Canticle II ‘Abraham and Isaac’. The earlier Procter/Pears/Britten version, was recorded in 1957 but not released at the time in favour of the Hahessy recording; it is included on this collection. In later years, it was perhaps inevitable that other British singers would be compared with those who created and inspired Britten’s work, notably Ferrier, particularly after her early death. Pamela Bowden was one of those singers: she studied with Ferrier’s teacher, Roy Henderson, in London and was hailed as the singer’s successor. She is represented by ‘A Charm of Lullabies’ and it seemed sensible to also include the remainder of the music on her original EP – two songs by Purcell – as bonus tracks for this release. A rare spoken-word appearance is made by author (and speaker) T.H. White who reads an extract from his book ‘The Sword in the Stone’ to an accompaniment of Britten’s music.


Voices for Today, Op. 75*
Cambridge University Musical Society Chorus
Benjamin Britten

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
David Willcocks

Songs from Friday Afternoons, Op. 7*
The Birds*
Corpus Christi Carol*
John Hahessy, boy alto
Benjamin Britten, piano

Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, Op. 51
Norma Procter, contralto
Peter Pears, tenor
Benjamin Britten, piano

A Charm of Lullabies, Op. 41*
Pamela Bowden, contralto
Peter Gellhorn, piano

‘Bottom’s Dream’ (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Geraint Evans, baritone
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Ernest Ansermet

The Sword in the Stone*
Terence Hanbury White, narrator
Orchestra conducted by Walter Goehr

Music for a while (arr. Tippett)*
From rosy bowers*
Pamela Bowden, contralto
Peter Gellhorn, piano


Recording information

Recording Producers: Andrew Raeburn (Songs from Friday Afternoons, The Birds, Corpus Christi Carol); John Mordler (Bottom’s Dream); James Walker (A Charm of Lullabies, Purcell); unknown (Voices for Today, Canticle II, The Sword in the Stone)
Balance Engineers: Kenneth Wilkinson, Alan Reeve (Songs from Friday Afternoons, The Birds, Corpus Christi Carol); James Lock, David Frost (Bottom’s Dream); unknown (Voices for Today, Canticle II, The Sword in the Stone)
Recording Locations: Decca Studio 3, West Hampstead, London, UK, January 1957 (A Charm of Lullabies, Purcell), February 1957 (Canticle II); Kingsway Hall, London, UK, January, February and April 1961 (Songs from Friday Afternoons, The Birds, Corpus Christi Carol); London, UK, 1952: music, 1963: narration (The Sword in the Stone); King’s College, Cambridge, UK, 1966 (Voices for Today); Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, April 1966 (Bottom’s Dream)


‘John Hahessy has a splendid strong tone, almost brassy in forte, and a blessedly unaffected style: none of those cautious hoots and beautifully modulated vowels that are the bane of the English choirboy tradition. What is more he evidently has a real natural musicality, to judge by his moulding of phrases throughout this disc.’ (Friday Afternoons, etc.) Gramophone

‘admirably read by the author, with a delightful mixture of sardonic humour and delicate description. The atmosphere is heightened by the music of Benjamin Britten, which brilliantly sharpens the word-pictures. … It is all charming and will give great pleasure to young and old, for its story and the way it is told and for Britten’s delicate score.’ (The Sword in the Stone) Gramophone

‘Britten’s songs were written in 1947 for Nancy Evans, and it might be thought that they need rather more mezzo than contralto tone. But Miss Bowden sings them with no apparent strain, and her characterisation of each one is (very) successful … Her voice is not yet as opulent as Kathleen Ferrier’s, but her dramatic sense is possibly more developed.’ (A Charm of Lullabies; Purcell) Gramophone