Britten Songs and Proverbs of William Blake

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COMPOSERS: Benjamin Britten
ALBUM TITLE: Britten Songs and Proverbs of William Blake
WORKS: Songs and Proverbs of William Blake; Tit for Tat’ Folk-songs
PERFORMER: Roderik Williams (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano)


This is the fifth Benjamin Britten volume within the 22 discs which now make up Naxos’s invaluable English Song Series; and it’s dominated by the Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, which the composer wrote for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Roderick Williams brings a gentler, more intimate touch to what Fischer-Dieskau called their ‘enigmatic smile’: Blake’s ‘Tyger’ burns bright but with less fierce teeth, and there is more melancholy than menace in this performance’s view of the human condition. Every beautifully placed word is matched by Iain Burnside’s recreation of Britten’s pianistic subtext, glinting with many a revealing musical gloss.

Walter de la Mare was a poetic muse of equal though totally different potency for Britten. And Williams and Burnside uncover a latent ardour within the archaicised nostalgia of his Tit for Tat settings. The rest of the CD is devoted to a delicious anthology of Britten’s folk-song arrangements. There may be recordings with more élan, but Williams is confiding, never coy; and he brings a disarming simplicity to ‘Tom Bowling’ and ‘O Waly, Waly’. He has clearly been well-coached by his accompanist in the accents and inflections north of the border: their ‘Ca’ the Yowes’ is one of the most compelling on disc.


Hilary Finch