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Britten: Les Illuminations; Serenade; Nocturne

Andrew Staples (tenor), Christopher Parkes (horn); Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Britten
Les Illuminations; Serenade; Nocturne
Andrew Staples (tenor), Christopher Parkes (horn); Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding
Harmonia Mundi HMM902267   69:58 mins

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Andrew Staples’s English-style lyric tenor suits at least two of these works, written as they were for Britten’s lifetime partner Peter Pears. The album opens, though, with Les Illuminations: one may miss the thrilling sound of a fine soprano trumping the string fanfares in the opening, but otherwise – as demonstrated by Pears and several tenors since – a male voice may more than suffice in this work.

The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Harding throws some grit into the opening fanfares, but soon demonstrates its refinement and range of tone colour in the well-focused low bass trill followed by the free-floating violin solo above string harmonics. Staples generally sings beautifully, avoiding the extreme characterisation of Ian Bostridge, his best rival in this programme (with Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic on Warner). Yet Staples’s attempt at the rapid-fire low Gs which open ‘Parade’ – wisely dodged by Pears – results in an unintelligible mutter (Bostridge and other tenors clearly deliver the notes in a baritone-like register).

Both the Serenade and Nocturne are decently performed, and Staples’s tasteful interpretation may suit those who prefer more straightforward accounts than Bostridge’s sometimes mannered delivery. But the best alternatives, besides Pears’s recordings with the composer, remain Allan Clayton’s (albeit, each on a different label – Serenade on Linn, Nocturne on Warner), marrying as he does attractive singing with a deep engagement with his texts.

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Daniel Jaffé