Britten: The Holy Sonnets of John Donne; Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo; Winter Words; If It’s Ever Spring Again; The Children and Sir Nameless

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: The Holy Sonnets of John Donne; Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo; Winter Words; If It’s Ever Spring Again; The Children and Sir Nameless
PERFORMER: Philip Langridge (tenor)Steuart Bedford (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 14682 DDD
This is Philip Langridge laying claim to territory previously reserved for the likes of Peter Pears and Anthony Rolfe Johnson, and his claim is impressive. Only Pears’s recording of the John Donne Sonnets is currently available as competition, and Langridge’s performance is darker, more sinewy. In Donne’s words, Langridge ‘batters’ the heart, where Pears ‘knocks, breathes, shines’. Langridge’s tenor is more challenged at the top of the register, and this adds to the sense of emotional effort as the voice hones itself to match Donne’s sharp verbal wit and the violence of his paradoxes.

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Some collectors may prefer the more lyrical, more sensuously Italianate way of Rolfe Johnson in the Michelangelo Sonnets, though Langridge’s performance is word-lively, and Steuart Bedford’s piano-playing wonderfully sentient. With Langridge’s imaginative Winter Words come, for the first time on disc, two extra Hardy settings, composed by Britten at the same time, but not included in the cycle: the spare and poignant ‘If It’s Ever Spring Again’, and ‘The Children and Sir Nameless’, a robust, chattering little parable. Hilary Finch