Britten: Folksong arrangements

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Centaur
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Folk Songs of the British Isles
WORKS: Folksong arrangements
PERFORMER: Maria Jette (soprano), Judith Kogan (harp)
CATALOGUE NO: CRC 2507
Not one, but three discs of music for the translucent combination of soprano and harp. Annette Betanski and Susan Miron, assisted by an assortment of obbligato instrumentalists, offer a true recital. The beautifully crafted programme is built around one of Britten’s last works, A Birthday Hansel. Throw in Carlos Salzédo’s version of Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grècques, Rubbra’s The Jade Mountain and works by Caplet, Falla and Donizetti, to name but a few, and there is a veritable feast of intriguing repertoire, all of which is performed with aplomb. Such a pity, then, that it appears to have been recorded in a large bathroom.

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Of Maria Jette’s and Judith Kogan’s two offerings, the selection of Fauré’s mélodies is particularly beguiling and is unlikely to attract too much dust on the shelf, even if the Berceuse and Sicilienne are a little saccharine. The accompaniments translate exceptionally well to harp, as do those of Britten’s folksong arrangements. Nevertheless, for anyone who has heard any of the latter in a ‘folk’ setting, it is more than a touch disconcerting to hear a classically trained voice tackle them. It is not that Jette sings them badly, but the impression is of a foreign language spoken phonetically without comprehension of the true meaning. This sense of dislocation from the style being emulated is, for some reason, much greater when they are sung by a soprano rather than a tenor, while Britten’s accompaniments seem designed to reinject the emotion that the voice has ironed out. Christopher Dingle