Begun in 1947 after a return to his native England, Canticles was composed over a twenty-five year period, and what music this is! Some have remarked on the complexity of the score, but to sit and listen to these sublime expressions of supreme love, sung by the incomparable, dare one say intrepid Peter Pears is a once in a lifetime experience. Canticle I uses a 17th century meditation text by Francis Quarles, opening the piece with a beautiful, peaceful flow that enchants from beginning to end. Other text sources include Edith Sitwell and T.S. Eliot, the setting of whose The Death of St Narcissus is one of Britten's finest achievements in his huge output of vocal writing. Pears is nothing short of stupendous throughout, singing with intensity, intimacy, and that virginal vocal texture that belongs to him alone. Probably the greatest miracle of this recording is the piano playing of Britten himself, proving again what a pianist he was - assured, richly musical, and of course deep in his own music. Again and again, he enriches his own towering score with remarkable pianism and an abounding musicality as a player. It's just wonderful in every way. The recording was made in three sessions over a period of fifteen years, from 1961-1976. If you've never heard this irreplaceable composition, this is the time and the recording to check out. The delightful A Birthday Hansel on texts of Robert Burns, completed in 1975 for the seventy-fifth birthday of the Queen Mother, is a perfect ending to an unrivalled listening experience. There are few Britten recordings I treasure more than this one. Recommended with joy!