(This is the same recording formerly released on Collins Classics - the Lott song cycles recorded in 1994 and the Bryn-Julson in 1990.)
If this disc only had the 22 minutes of Felicity Lott's Les Illuminations, it would still be worth Naxos' asking price three times over.
Les Illuminations, a ten part song cycle with Orchestra composed in 1939, must be among the most gorgeously sensual compositions of all time, and Lott, Bedford and the English Chamber Orchestra bring it off perfectly. I can't think of any other Britten composition I enjoy more, not even the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings - which is saying something!
Our Hunting Fathers (1936; 28 mins) is, I think, a bit underrated. It's performance here is adequate (Phyllis Bryn-Julson takes the vocal part) but I think I was somewhat spoiled for it by the brilliance of Ian Bostridge on the EMI set (with a close-as-humanly-possible-to-perfect Serenade). Still, this will be a good enough recording for you to work out if you like it.
Quatre Chansons Francaises (1928; 12mins) were a real discovery for me. I enjoyed them so much when I first played the disc I immediately went back to listen to it again twice more! Then I was gobsmacked to discover Britten wrote it when he was fourteen! It shows an incredible ability to set French texts sensitively for one so young. What a prodigy!
Again, Felicity Lott is wonderful, clearly treating it as seriously as everything else she sings. You can hear a lot of borrowed influences in Britten's orchestral writing, most obviously Wagner, but it is a fascinating insight into where Britten came from musically. And it is a downright enjoyable piece of music in its own right.
Wholeheartedly recommended. A box of delights at a bargain price. And with astonishing generosity, Naxos have included a 16 page booklet with full texts and translations, career information for those involved, and an informative essay by Lloyd Moore! Is there anything that company can't do?