WORKS: Finzi: Dies natalis; Britten: Les illuminations; Quatre Chansons françaises; Delius: A Late Lark (ed. Beecham & Fenby)
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano); BBC SO/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10590
Though we are arguably more used to hearing the two bigger works on this disc sung by tenors, all but the Delius was first performed by a soprano, so it seems entirely apt that Susan Gritton should address them with her light and ethereal voice.
A problem nevertheless arises when Gritton tries to cut through the orchestral textures. In some places consonants disappear. Clearer highlighting of her voice in the overall sound would have helped.
But there is much to admire in her delicate, considered vocalism, as well as in her refined musicianship. Her presentation of Finzi’s exquisite masterpiece is closer to an intimate revelation than to the clear-eyed evangelism of Philip Langridge (on Decca), or the well-articulated mystery presented by Wilfred Brown (on EMI, alas now deleted).
Gritton finds plenty of character in Britten’s Les illuminations, too, though without possessing the means to fulfil all the necessary expressive ends. Her line in ‘Being Beauteous’ is lovingly shaped. Felicity Lott’s version, though, is more incisive in terms of text.
Edward Gardner’s support, however, is invaluable throughout. With the BBC string players on sterling form, Finzi’s haunting blend of lyricism and astringency, the bite of his harmonic scrunches and the fluid interplay of his lines effortlessly crossing innumerable bar lines, all come over. So does the sheer imagination and colour of Britten’s extraordinarily accomplished Four French Songs, composed when he was just 14. The abrasiveness of Les illuminations as well as Delius’s poignant autumnal colours also register vividly, if occasionally at the expense of the voice that should be the main event. George Hall