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Noye's Fludde / Golden Vanity
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Britten: Noye's Fludde; The Golden Vanity
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Recordings of this delightful church parable Noyes Fludde (Noah's Flood) are extremely rare and none certainly are as authoritative as this one under the supervision of the composer. For contrast, included also here is one of Britten's most notorious secular works the Golden Vanity which he subtitled 'A Vaudeville for boys and piano'. Great fun!
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Britten's best work is amazingly strange: fundamentally tonal, but highly flexible. The core orchestra of strings, piano and percussion is augmented by a group of bugles and other instruments more frequently heard in the hands of amateurs. Spoken and sung parts come both from professional soloists and a boys choir. The bugles--natural instruments without equal temperament--create an archaic and heraldic sense. A final processional (I assume it's the animals leaving the ark) is magical, with a oddly fragile combination of piano, handbells and recorders underlying the choir. This is a piece well worth hearing many times.
"The Golden Vanity" is considerably less substantial. It's an entertainment piece for childrens choir with much stamping of feet and other comedic effects. It's probably great fun to perform and to see, but to ears alone it doesn't really offer much protein. No matter. "Noye's Fludde" is well-worth the price of admission.
The Golden Vanity is a strange little piece written for children only with some interesting stuff and some that's so-so to these ears. Still, I'm glad to have it in my collection; other Britten fans and completeists will surely want it as well, although not all the young soloists here are up to the high standard set by the best of them.
I bought the same "Noye's Fludde" on vinyl decades ago, but CD format is just more convenient now. You can picture the delight of a medieval audience with the performance of a Biblical story in contemporary (to them) dress, with broad slapstick comedy here and there - especially a Mrs. Noah that modern listeners can't help but associate with Bill Cosby's portrayal of the long-suffering woman whose husband has obviously gone off his rocker. The music is appropriately simple but irresistible. The English is antique but easy to understand.
"The Golden Vanity" is a more recent folk song full of pathos and tragedy: the tyrannical captain and the heroic cabin boy. Again, Britten keeps his version simple as befits a song that was familiar to his audiences, especially in 1966 at the height of the folk song era. I assure you, though, that I heard no echo of Peter, Paul, and Mary, or of other popular versions of "The Golden Vanity."
All the percussion instruments and bugles will thrill.
Additionally there is a dramatic child's piece of the old ballad, "The Golden Vanity".
At the time this review was written Amazon listed this item as a 2 disc set. This is a misprint as there is only one disc. It's also listed as costing $23.49 which is ridiculously overpriced. Make sure to buy the used.