Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Les illuminations; Nocturne

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Les illuminations; Nocturne
PERFORMER: Adrian Thompson (tenor), Michael Thompson (horn); Bournemouth Sinfonietta/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553834
How strikingly original and imaginative these works must have seemed at their premieres. Britten’s song cycles with orchestral accompaniment are probably unsurpassed for sheer eloquence. Spare forces are used incredibly colourfully and with consummate to evoke action, atmosphere and settings. Voice and instruments are perfectly matched and fused as one.

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Adrian Thompson negotiates the often eccentric and tortuous contours of the songs with aplomb, and he invests great sensitivity and subtle expression in every one – from the nightmarish ‘Dirge’ of the Serenade as he darkly proclaims ‘To Purgatory fire thou com’st…’ to the absurd pomposity of ‘Royalty’ in Les illuminations. (This cycle, containing some very inventive string writing, comprises dream-like, frequently nightmarish, settings, in French, of enigmatic Rimbaud texts.)

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In the Serenade, Michael Thompson’s horn playing sets Tennyson’s wild echoes flying: gently as from elfland and majestically as they ‘roll from soul to soul and grow for ever…’ Lloyd-Jones’s readings are vivid and articulate, his seven obbligato players, in the Nocturne, are excellent; the bassoon is Tennyson’s slumbering sea monster, the Kraken; the harp delicately conjures a little boy in a moonlit landscape; and flute and clarinet delicately entwine to depict Keats’s soft breezes and winged insects. Ravishing. Ian Lace