Britten: Canticles I-V; Folksong arrangements

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Canticles I-V; Folksong arrangements
PERFORMER: Ian Bostridge (tenor), David Daniels (countertenor), Christopher Maltman (baritone), Timothy Brown (horn), Aline Brewer (harp), Julius Drake (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45525 2
And so to a new generation of canticle interpreters: Ian Bostridge, David Daniels and Christopher Maltman are the chosen three wise men entrusted with following Britten’s masterworks as they move further and further away from the early ‘definitive’ performances and, wonderfully, grow ever more truly authentic and universal in the process.

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For the first Canticle, My Beloved is Mine, Bostridge and Julius Drake create such a sensuous – and, indeed, sensual – stream of sound for the tides and tributaries of Britten’s word-setting that they discover anew the glorious eros within the composer’s response to the Divine Rapture of the poet Francis Quarles. Bostridge’s astute performances of the Third and Fifth Canticles are no less physically vivid.

As the Voice of God in Abraham and Isaac, Daniels’s countertenor is uniquely finely tuned to Bostridge’s tenor. But, as Isaac, it is undercharged: this Canticle is, after all, a dramatic scena, and Daniels’s somewhat bloodless performance fails to make the blood run cold. With Maltman, this vocal palette makes for a highly spiritualised Journey of the Magi: there’s more here of the strange mystery and less of the harsh physicality of the event.

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Individual taste rules when responding to performances of Britten’s folksong arrangements. For me, Bostridge, Daniels and Maltman offer singing just too mannered and self-regarding to release their real magic, in comparison with earlier recordings with Philip Langridge (Collins) and Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Hyperion). Hilary Finch