This mid-priced 2-CD set of English songs performed by the legendary Peter Pears is entitled "A Treasury of English Song", a description which, in this case, is more than justified. The songs were recorded in the 50s and 60s, when Pears was at the height of his powers, and the list of accompanists - Viola Tunnard, Benjamin Britten, Alan Bush (piano), and Joan Dickson (cello) - reads like a roll of honour. The performers alone would justify this recording,but what is really refreshing is that this disc does not simply contain the usual familiar examples from the English art-song repertoire, but a number of genuine rarities, including songs by Warlock's "cause celebre", Bernard van Dieren, as well as works by the little-known but talented William Busch and Priaulx Rainier. Even the songs by more familiar composers - Delius, Warlock, Bridge, Ireland, Holst, Moeran, Butterworth and Tippett - are not necessarily among their better-known, although Ireland's cycle, "The Land of Lost Content" is included in full, and there is a decent selection of Britten's well-loved folksong arrangements.
Here is treasure trove indeed, and repeated listening will produce more hidden delights with each hearing. One such revelation for me was the work of William Busch (1901-45), a tragically short-lived composer whose only songs were composed in the year of his death. Note the marvellous scene-painting by the piano in "The Echoing Green". Equally interesting are the songs comprising Priaulx Rainier's "Cycle for Declamation" for unaccompanied tenor, which certainly extend Pears's range and technique, as does Richard Rodney Bennett's "Tom O' Bedlam's Song", a dramatic piece in which Pears is, in a way, able to recreate his role as the outcast, Peter Grimes.
Pears's inimitable and mellifluous tenor voice undoubtedly enhances this repertoire, the singer rising to the occasion regardless of the mood of the song, although he is perhaps supremely at home in the romanticism of Ireland, Moeran and Bridge, and, of course, Britten's folksong settings. Given that this set includes 58 items and nearly 2 hrs. 20 mins. of music, it is worth every penny, although the lack of texts in the liner notes, or any indication that they can be downloaded, is something of a drawback. Even though Pears's diction is pretty clear, and the recording standard, given the dates of performance, very high, lack of a hard copy of the texts is bound to diminish the enjoyment slightly - at least for me. Still, given the historical importance of the performances, this is a blemish that most people will be prepared to live with.
on 6 February 2013
My prayers have been answered. For almost the past 50 years I have been awaiting the release on CD of a marvellous recital by Pears accompanied by Britten, originally released on a 10-inch LP in 1955, later re-released on a 12-inch LP, but not until now on CD. This recital forms part of the second CD of this two CD set. It is included in its entirety and in the original sequence, which is important as the songs follow the programme of a well-planned live recital given at the 1949 Aldeburgh Festival. The songs in the recital (and indeed all the songs on the CD) are from the 20th century, some better known than others, but all worth hearing and given truly memorable performances. Pears and Britten are at their prime, and incomparable in this music.
The songs of the original recital are as follows:
Bridge: Go not, happy day
Butterworth: Is my team plouging
Ireland: I have twelve oxen
Moeran: In youth is pleasure
Warlock: Yarmouth fair (a real delight)
Berkeley: How love came in
Britten: Let the florid music praise! (the highlight of the set, a great song so sensitively sung and accompanied)
Oldham: Three Chinese Lyrics (utterly charming)
Bridge: Love went a-riding (a fitting conclusion to the recital, worthy of an encore)
The (mono) recordings are generally good throughout the CD, though the piano in the above recital is a trifle dull (and out of tune in the bass). Don't be put off by that; the performances transcend every blemish. The remaining items on this very generous collection are as interesting, but have been released previously on CD, so if you are a collector of Engligh song you may find some duplicates. No matter: the recital part described above is alone worth the whole price. You won't be disappointed.