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Britten: Our Hunting Fathers etc

Mark Padmore (tenor); Sinfonieorchester Basel/Ivor Bolton (Prospero)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Britten
Our Hunting Fathers; 4 Chansons Francaise; Gloriana – Suite
Mark Padmore (tenor); Sinfonieorchester Basel/Ivor Bolton
Prospero PROSP0031   69:44 mins

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‘Immaculate…though occasionally a bit too restrained’ was The Guardian’s verdict on a 2015 concert performance by Mark Padmore of Our Hunting Fathers, accusing the singer of underplaying the music’s ‘savage irony’. Judging from this 2020 studio recording, Padmore has taken that assessment to heart. His savage performance, borderline Sprechstimme at times, unfortunately and most uncharacteristically rides roughshod over several of Britten’s meticulous details.

Several notes throughout are quite approximate – not even necessarily where the vocal writing is particularly demanding. Nor is pronunciation immaculate, with ‘arch angels’ rendered ‘ev angels’. Yes, Our Hunting Fathers is not meant to be beautiful – but nor, for that matter, is it meant to be sung by a tenor. It’s a cycle that needs to be heard sung by a soprano as originally intended – the moment when such a voice melds with the crescendoing woodwind at the start of ‘Dance of Death’ simply can’t be matched by any tenor. Even allowing for this, Padmore here is not a patch on Peter Pears, who in his remarkable live recording, with the composer himself conducting, demonstrates how greater precision adds rather than subtracts to the cycle’s hair-raising quality.

Soprano Christina Landhamer gives a decent performance of the precocious early Quatre Chansons françaises, and Ivor Bolton conducts the superb Basel Symphony Orchestra in a stately account of the Gloriana suite, with tenor Alasdair Kent singing the ‘Lute Song’ with beguiling lyricism. The opening ‘Tournament’, though, is portly rather than athletic – Steuart Bedford offers a more stirring account (on Naxos).

Daniel Jaffé

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