LABELS: BBC Legends Britten the Performer
WORKS: Der Hirt auf dem Felsen
PERFORMER: Heather Harper (soprano), Peter Pears (tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, John Shirley-Quirk (baritone), Thea King (clarinet), Benjamin Britten (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BBCB 8011-2 ADD
As Graham Johnson remarks in his notes, the rare combination of Britten and Fischer-Dieskau in Schubert is musically electric, with each artist daring the other to greater heights. Every song seems to be newly imagined in a challenging act of re-creation. In the awesome ‘Gruppe aus dem Tartarus’ and ‘Prometheus’, Britten’s mastery of colour and genius for ‘orchestrating’ Schubert’s visionary keyboard writing inspire the baritone to readings of apocalyptic intensity, while at the other end of the spectrum the pair distil a remote, unearthly sadness in the Schlegel setting ‘Der Wanderer’.
Elsewhere on the disc, Heather Harper, in secure, shining voice, gives a compelling reading of ‘Der Hirt auf dem Felsen’, darker and grander than we usually hear. John Shirley-Quirk brings a grave tenderness to the Wolf Michelangelo Lieder, while in a trio of Wolf’s religious songs Peter Pears compensates for some grey tones with the hypnotic concentration of his phrasing. Throughout, Britten reveals a miraculous sensitivity to Wolf’s often labyrinthine harmonies.
Britten’s empathy with Wolf is also in evidence on the other disc, assembled from recitals given by Britten and Pears in 1969 and 1972. By 1972 the tenor’s voice had begun to fray, though the sardonic ‘Bei einer Trauung’ is a masterpiece of timing and colour from both artists. The 1969 Schubert group includes one of the most pliable, sensuous performances on disc of ‘Ganymed’ and a deliciously buoyant ‘Der Musensohn’. Britten’s own On This Island is an indispensable reading, with a haunting, languorous nocturne; and if Pears misses the easy charm of Quilter’s ‘O Mistress Mine’, he and Britten give an uncommonly passionate rendering of ‘Fear no more the Heat o’ the Sun’. No texts or translations, alas. But this should not deter collectors from snapping up these mementoes of some revelatory music-making. Richard Wigmore