Britten: Les illuminations; Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Quatre chansons françaises

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Les illuminations; Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Quatre chansons françaises
PERFORMER: Felicity Lott (soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Michael Thompson (horn); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 7112 Reissue (1989)
Recorded in 1988, these are fine, creditable performances of two of Britten’s greatest song cycles, but given the rich variety of other available recordings, neither stands out as essential. The notable feature of this disc is the exquisitely detailed, thrillingly pulsating orchestral playing, but the soloists are good rather than exceptional.

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Compared with Heather Harper in her account with Neville Marriner for EMI, or Jill Gomez with John Whitfield (EMI), Felicity Lott doesn’t really express the necessary sensuousness or the deranged authority that Rimbaud’s exotic texts require.

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The benchmark recording of the Serenade is surely the version made in 1944 by Peter Pears and Dennis Brain with Britten himself conducting. Even through the crackly mono sound, it has a brilliance, incisiveness and atmosphere that Rolfe Johnson, sweet-voiced though he is, and Michael Thompson don’t quite convey. Claire Wrathall