Britten: Complete Orchestral Song-Cycles

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Complete Orchestral Song-Cycles
PERFORMER: Felicity Lott, Phyllis Bryn-Julson (sopranos), Philip Langridge (tenor), Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Frank Lloyd (horn); ECO, Northern Sinfonia/Steuart Bedford
Britten’s orchestral song cycles have been recorded in various combinations over the years, but this is the first time they have been issued complete and Collins is to be complimented for this. While making a tidy package on our shelves, however, and focusing the buyer’s attention, such encyclopaedic releases rarely give complete musical satisfaction, and this one proves no exception.


Steuart Bedford’s long-standing and percipient relationship with Britten’s music brings authority and musical unity to the project; both orchestras play excellently for him, but the singers do not always satisfy. Philip Langridge, for instance, brings a splendid verbal intensity and dramatic colouring to the Nocturne’s wide contrasts, but does not always seem in top voice during the Serenade, where floated lyrical phrases are sometimes a little cloudy. Still, his is a passsionately committed and generally distinguished contribution to the collection.


Phyllis Bryn-Julson sounds detached by contrast in Our Hunting Fathers, and despite precision and clarity does not communicate Britten’s anger and compassion. Felicity Lott deals expertly with the astonishing 14-year-old’s Quatre chansons françaises and the later Les illuminations, as does Ann Murray with the late cantata Phaedra, although lacking something in warmth of tone. The instrumental obbligati are all brilliantly turned and the recorded sound is clear and sonorous. This is a very worthy issue, in fact, even if one often misses that perfect focus of technical mastery and poetic vision which produces the uniquely expressive interpretation. Anthony Payne