This is a must have record!
Firstly, the three pieces here - if you don't know them - are essential and central masterpieces of Britten's and even alone they could stand to declare him to be one of the greatest (if not the greatest) 20th century composer (but of course he wrote many other masterpieces as well). Song cycles made up of settings of great poetry from earlier ages play an especially important part in his output. Through his settings we hear great poetry through his ears and are further educated in their beauty and power to move. The Serenade is perhaps the most popular and well-known of the three and is perhaps the greatest piece in the solo horn repertoire. It is extraordinarily powerful and still sounds thoroughly contemporary as well as being entirely approachable, memorable, hum-able .. . Les Illuminations - settings of Rimbaud - is equally striking: it is exhilerating and astingent and ... fresh. The Nocturne is less famous and perhaps the least of the three but it is full of marvelous things and the sound world of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the opera he was working on at the time of its composition.
The performances are definitive - thrilling, beautiful, affecting - with Peter Pears in fine voice (and what a wonderful tenor he was!) and Barry Tuckwell's wonderful and never bettered account of the horn part amongst other delights. Britten was a very notable conductor and a brilliant exponent of his own work - so brilliant, one suspects, that conductors might fear to follow him. The sound is excellent. If you only buy one Britten disk make it this one!