R.Strauss Horn Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Britten Serenade, Op 31
Even after 50 years of listening to Britten’s Serenade, the work that introduced him to me as an inspired composer, it still has the power to astonish anew for its amazingly apt setting of the diligently chosen poems and for the deftly woven, dazzling horn part written for Dennis Brain. There is something inevitable and predestined about these pieces, as though they existed for all time, an impression enhanced by this performance. I have heard Bostridge sing the cycle three times on the radio, most impressively with David Pyatt (Neunecker’s most recent rival, as it happens, in the Strauss works) and found the young tenor predictably spontaneous and immediate in his responses to text and music. That has carried over happily into the studio, Bostridge sounding fresh and eager, his interpretation suggesting the work had just been conceived. One small reservation concerns a weakness in the lower register in the Keats Sonnet, “Oh soft embalmer of the still night”.
Other notable performances reside in the catalogue; none is superior to this one either in the singing or the horn contribution, Neunecker as lithe and full-toned as any that has gone before. The conductor follows tradition in tempo matters and his players are alive to every nuance of the diaphanous scoring. As all other versions are attached to other Britten works, you will buy this one either because of, or in spite of, the coupling, so comparisons seem irrelevant.
As it happens, Neunecker can stand comparison in the Strauss concertos with Pyatt’s versions. She may be a slightly less individual player and, less forwardly recorded, a shade more reticent, but her technique is faultless and she enters into the alternating exuberance and romantic inwardness of Strauss’s writing. In the famous flurry of notes at the close of the first piece, she can even stand comparison with Brain’s legendary dexterity on yet another, much earlier EMI recording.'