Decca was Benjamin Britten s recording label and here three vocal/orchestral works ie song cycles feature namely the richly melodic yet emotionally searching Serenade and Les Illuminations from 1940 and 1943 respectively combined here with the dearker , sparser work the Nocturne from 1960.
like all composers - the original recordings of a composer are all required at some point to witness their authentic point of origin intentions in their own works , and here this re-release Decca cd is no different. this cd is from 1986 and offers arguably definitive performances by Britten conducting , with his long time partner Peter Pears singing throughout as tenor. the London SO and the English Chamber Orchestra offer fine readings of these masterful vocal works. the cd booklet here offer full lyrics and reasonably good explanatory text by Philip Brett.
the beautiful shimmering string textures, call and response horn and deeply melancholic lyrics in the partly Mahler-esque Serenade are essential repertoire and although there are some equally fine alternative recordings on the market by Ian Bostridge offers recent recordings on EMI and Anthony Rolfe Johnson on Chandos for example- if you're serious about Britten s music - you need these performances by the composer himself also.
the second work the Les Illuminations (scored for either mezzo soprano or tenor) with its opening fanfare offers lighter more melodic fare of an equally superlative and dramatic nature. i also like Felicity Lott s version on chandos from the 1990's also . both versions are fine and deeply rewarding works. Final work the sombre sparse Nocturne is my least favourite work of the three here, offering as it does a reduced orchestral colour and involvement in sombre hues. a new discovery for this reviewer and rather like Britten's Cello Concerto - a darker aquired taste far away for the brilliance both technically and in sound of the composer s best works i feel such as the Serenade , Sea Interludes, String Quartets etc.
all in all - essential British music, essential vocal versions of some outstanding emotive vocal works.
The original performers of Serenade re-unite to perform again, with the maturity and insight gained into the work that ten years of performances had provided. Brain and Pears are on fine form here, and the performance is more settled and revealing than the first recording of the piece. Despite Britten not conducting this performance, his oversight of the recording ensure that the piece is performed as he conceived it, albeit with the original rather extreme tempo markings ignored (as Britten himself would do later.) The other recordings on this disc are if not as historically important, equally well performed and recorded. Recommended to all Britten fans.
NB This review is for the Decca label Serenade and Illuminations, both with Peter Pears, Dennis Brain and conducted by Eugene Goosens in November 1953. The Nocturne recording is Pears, Barry Tuckwell and conducted by Britten, in September 1959.
These three haunting works have long been admired. Indeed they were key to establishing Britten's global reputation, and for good reason: his skill at setting words to music stands above that of pretty well any other 20th century composer. The pieces also provide a fascinating insight into the Britten-Pears relationship. Here we get the extraordinary chance to listen to this, both for the works in themselves as compositions and for the interaction of composer as conductor and muse as tenor. Picky buyers may pause at the thought that the sound quality here is not as pristine as other versions recorded more recently, but nobody will ever match the authenticity of Pears himself singing music so completely written for him. This disc should be a must, for it is both a historic and a classic recording.
I have both versions by Peers and Britten. One with Tuckwell and this one, I love them both. These pieces of music introduced me to Britten and I've never looked back. Absolutely wonderful even though the recording is less than perfect the atmosphere more than makes up for it.
A wonderful cd, specially for the excellent intervencion of Peter Pears in a great artistic and vocal state. Pears was a tenor without a magnificence voice but for this repertoire his refined manners and musicallity are in common sense with the the Britten works, and not properly with the vocal line ,specially designed for him, than with his spirit. Pears and Brtitten, had been a good partneships with this too.Perhaps Pears sings more brilliant than Brittten conducts. One cd that I have no doubt to recommend. The recording was made around 50 years ago, but we can understand everithing.