Britten: Songs

Author: 
Christopher Headington

Britten: Songs

  • Folk Song Arrangements, The Salley Gardens (also unison vv and piano)
  • Folk Song Arrangements, Sweet Polly Oliver
  • Folk Song Arrangements, O waly waly
  • Folk Song Arrangements, Lord, I married me a wife
  • Folk Song Arrangements, She's like a swallow
  • Folk Song Arrangements, Lemady
  • Folk Song Arrangements, Bonny at morn
  • Folk Song Arrangements, I was lonely and forlorn
  • (3) Early Songs
  • Tit for Tat
  • Songs and Proverbs of William Blake
  • Folk Song Arrangements, The Salley Gardens (also unison vv and piano)
  • Folk Song Arrangements, Sweet Polly Oliver
  • Folk Song Arrangements, O waly waly
  • Folk Song Arrangements, Lord, I married me a wife
  • Folk Song Arrangements, She's like a swallow
  • Folk Song Arrangements, Lemady
  • Folk Song Arrangements, Bonny at morn
  • Folk Song Arrangements, I was lonely and forlorn
  • (3) Early Songs
  • Tit for Tat
  • Songs and Proverbs of William Blake

The relative novelty in this recital is a group of five British folk-song arrangements that Benjamin Britten made for voice and harp (or piano) in the last year of his life, during the burning drought of summer 1976: after the Aldeburgh Festival he fled at the end of June with Sir Peter Pears to the cooler climate of Bergen in Norway. These arrangements, of which he made eight in all, are still not well known, and it is curious that Sir Peter and Osian Ellis performed none in their 1977 recital of Britten folk-song arrangements (Decca SXL6793, 6/77—nla). In fact, the five chosen by Benjamin Luxon (a pity, though, that he does not give us the whole set) show the composer's skill at its most assured, so that they match satisfyingly with the three familiar ones from the 1940s. Besides these pieces there is Britten's major baritone cycle, the Blake Songs and Proverbs written for Fischer-Dieskau in 1965, three very early songs published in 1985 including a setting of Longfellow's ''Beware'' and the Walter de la Mare group of 1928-30 called Tit for tat revised for publication 40 years later.
Luxon created the role of Owen Wingrave in Britten's television opera of that name, and his rich, flexible voice is well suited to this music in all its range, while David willison is an admirable partner. The Blake cycle here has an intelligence and intensity that compel throughout and musically it well complements the sombre performance by Fischer-Dieskau and the composer (Decca 417 312-1LE, 2/87) as well as having more idiomatic English. Tit for tat is effective too. Elsewhere I occasionally felt that the singer is too theatrical and effortful—not least in such a folk-song arrangement as O waly, waly and again in The Salley Gardens—while his use of a slight west-country accent in folk-song also sounds self-counscious. A few high notes sound uneasy too. But I must not carp, and it is good to have all this music together. The recording places the voice a little distantly, but satisfies overall.'

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