Britten • Finzi

COMPOSERS: Benjamin Britten; Gerald Finzi
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Britten • Finzi
WORKS: Britten: Serenade for tenor, horn and strings; Finzi: Dies Natalis
PERFORMER: Mark Padmore (tenor); Stephen Bell (horn); Britten Sinfonia
CATALOGUE NO: HMU807552

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Mark Padmore is an outstanding performer. Anyone who’s seen, as well as heard, him as the Evangelist in Bach’s St Matthew Passion (tempting to call it his ‘signature’ role) will know how his facial gestures and physical movements add to his already abundant musicality and radiant vocal tone. Usually he manages to convey a sense of that in his recordings too. But here I kept alternating between admiring the musical qualities and wondering about some of the expression.

Britten’s word setting is vivid and sensitive enough in its own right – too much care or effort can easily overload it. Padmore’s singing is very loving indeed, but in places I can’t help feeling that it’s a case of ‘less is more’. The Britten Sinfonia and instrumental soloists are admirably attuned to Padmore’s approach, yet to listen to the original Peter Pears recordings – or to a very different recent contender like Christoph Prégardien – after this is to receive an object lesson in balancing intensity with elegant restraint. Padmore is more successful in the exquisite Dies Natalis, where a more extrovert approach really pays off. But there’s strong competition here too, notably from Toby Spence (Wigmore Hall Live) and John Mark Ainsley (Hyperion). A recording with insights, but not, perhaps, a front-runner.

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Stephen Johnson