Britten: Still Falls The Rain
Having scaled the heights of Britten’s song-cycle masterpieces, including a sun-kissed account of the Michelangelo Sonnets (reviewed in the December 2011 issue), tenor Nicolas Phan moves into rarer territory in his second disc for Avie. As Phan explains in his excellent notes, horn player Dennis Brain and harpist Osian Ellis inspired most of the settings here.
Jennifer Montone is well-matched on horn in The Heart of the Matter; Phan’s first, swelling note immediately establishes his refinement and steel, rare among Britten’s recent tenors. Its centrepiece is the superbly florid Canticle III, a setting of Edith Sitwell’s Still Falls the Rain. It’s only a pity the musical acoustics are at odds with the close-miked narrator, Alan Cumming.
Pleasure is uninterrupted in the Burns and folk settings, where Phan’s sophistication is easily matched by harpist Sivan Magen. Britten’s astonishing way with the harp, especially in extreme registers, reaches its apogee in Canticle V, a setting of TS Eliot’s The Death of Saint Narcissus. Pithier language than Sitwell’s elicits tough responses, electrifyingly realised by Phan and Magan, as the self-admiring youth becomes ‘a dancer before God’. The tenor turns in a first-class performance, and pianist Myra Huang lends the songs personality throughout. More please!