On this recording the selection of forces are so very well matched that it becomes a genuine collector's item. First the music - and here we have two of Benjamin Britten's most eloquent scores, the Serenade of for Tenor, Horn & Strings and the Nocturne as well as the seldom heard but impressive Dies Natalis of Gerald Finzi. Then the performers - the celebrated tenor Mark Padmore, French hornist Stephen Bell, and the Britten Sinfonia conducted with great sensitivity by Jacqueline Shave. The degree of collaboration among these artists is exemplary.
Though comparisons with other singers is a much abused means of addressing a recording, the fact that Britten wrote these two song cycles of his life partner Peter Pears always raises that sort of discussion. Mark Padmore has an ideal voice for these two Britten song cycles. He has the kind of musical sensitivity and attentiveness to textual subtleties that characterized Pears' singing. His voice is essentially light in the way that Pears' was, but his is infinitely more attractive. Its tone is clear and pure, with none of Pears' nasal quality, and can be sweet without sounding precious. Padmore's technique seems absolutely secure and while his instrument is not large, he can produce an impressive range of dynamics. He and horn player Stephen Bell deliver a terrific performance of the Serenade for tenor, horn, and strings, and Jacqueline Shave's leadership of the Britten Sinfonia is energetic and nuanced. His interpretation of the Nocturne is one of utmost sensitivity. "On a poet's lips I slept", sings Padmore at the start of the Nocturne, a less ponderous and more transient work, and that is just how it seems in these intimate and poetic performances; the sense of poems comes across with extra immediacy, as if Padmore has read the texts many times over before fitting them to the music.
Padmore again excels in bringing intelligent and sensitive, sometimes soaring musicality to the songs in Finzi's cycle Dies Natalis that is something of a novelty, but it fits well with the Britten. His harmonic language is eloquently post-Romantic, solidly in the English pastoral tradition, and his text setting relatively conventional, but the cycle is a lovely, lyrical, entirely successful exemplar of that tradition. Padmore `s warm vibrato sounds handsome in Finzi's sweeping, majestic Dies Natalis (words by Thomas Traherne) - a cycle of songs on a more lyrical, naive note, as the text portrays the world through the eyes of a child. Finzi may not have been given his due as an English composer of stature, but he most certainly holds his own here and completes the mood of the more well known Britten works. Padmore is impeccable, the Britten Sinfonia detailed and expressive and the recording bright and well staged in full sound dimension. Grady Harp, July 12