Britten: Britten Abroad

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LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Britten Abroad: Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo; The Poet’s Echo; French Folksong Arrangements; Um Mitternacht; Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Mark Padmore (tenor), Iain Burnside (piano)


What an inspired idea not only to bring together Britten’s mature foreign-language songs, but also to have the programme shared by two of Britain’s keenest and brightest singers. I had a few very small reservations to begin with over Mark Padmore’s artfulness and occasional small linguistic slip in the Michelangelo Sonnets; once heard, Anthony Rolfe Johnson’s delivery of Sonnet 30 can never be forgotten, and he manages the climactic phrase with its flip over to a top B without having to adjust the text as Padmore does. Susan Gritton, too, projects the Russian text of the Pushkin settings less urgently than their original interpreter Galina Vishnevskaya, but captures something of the Russian soprano’s most luminous, hallowed tone and remains purer under pressure. The second half of the recital, though, is flawless music-making of the first order. Britten’s French folksong settings, like his Tom Moore Irish sequence, tend to be overshadowed by the English songs, but the piano parts, delicately rendered by Iain Burnside if without quite Britten the pianist’s ethereal light, are full of unselfconscious individuality. Gritton and Burnside share the honours here, and it’s impossible to choose between the Christmas song and ‘Il est quelqu’un sur terre’ for seemingly artless simplicity. The Hölderlin settings, prefaced by a rare Goethe number first performed in 1992, are Britten at his most essential, and Gritton makes the best possible case for a soprano interpretation. So delight and spiritual depths go hand in hand. The recital is vividly recorded, the voices well forward though not at the expense of the piano part, and handsomely presented, with an informative essay by Dr John Evans. David Nice