Britten, Berkeley

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COMPOSERS: Berkeley,Britten
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: On This Island; Cabaret Songs; Five Poems
PERFORMER: Philip Langridge (tenor), Della Jones (mezzo-soprano), Steuart Bedford (piano)
Philip Langridge is a superb Britten interpreter, who brings to English song the refined intelligence, insight and sensitivity which characterise his operatic roles. This pithy collection of Auden settings (the complete early cycle On This Island and a clutch of individual songs are new to CD) is highly rewarding.


Of particular interest is a hitherto unrecorded set of Auden songs by Britten’s friend Lennox Berkeley. The enchanting piano opening to ‘Lauds’ could easily be Britten in skittish, Ravelian mood; ‘Carry her over the water’ is similarly light and Brittenesque. Elsewhere Berkeley harks back to early 20th-century British song: accompaniments are thicker, the intricate vocal line still evocative. The rhapsodising ‘Lay your sleeping head, my love’ lacks Britten’s confident sense of direction, but its opening is bewitching.


Occasionally Langridge lets rip with a Pears-like flourish, as in the trumpeting opening to On This Island. More important is his marvellous gift of understatement (‘The sun shines down’, with its deftly arpeggiated vocal line, for example). His Britten in jazzier vein sparkles too. Della Jones adds a winning batch of Britten’s Cabaret Songs, and Steuart Bedford spins an enchanting web of accompaniment throughout. A delightful collection. Roderic Dunnett