having been a fan of Britten's string quartets etc for many years + having just returned from a visit to Britten's home of Aldeburgh + Snape Maltings, i listened afresh to this Chandos cd (from 1989 + re-relased in 2004) of some of the composers most famous non-opera vocal works : Les Illuminations (1939), the early student work :Quatre Chansons Francais (1928) + for me, most movingly the elegaic Serenade for Tenor,Horn + Strings (1943). and this cd is marvel. Felicity Lott firstly is excellent , strongly projected and powerfully rended in the popular vocal work originally writen for Peter Pears of course. Lott is excellent here with fine support from the Scottish NO under Bryden Thomson. the recorded sound is clear + well balanced also.
the second work - the Quatre Chansons are arguably the weakest , most deriviative work here owes much indeed to the earlier french canon but the performances are again fine + well recorded. its just that Britten's own more complex compostional voice has yet to appear in these works which are comparatively lightweight.
final work here is the Serenade for Tenor,Horn+Strings and although i have not as yet compared with the original Pears versions on decca, Anthony Rolfe Johnson singing is deeply expressive, + yes very moving . his phrasing of the line "bugle,blow,answer,echoes,answer,dying,dying" for the Nocturne,gets me every time. a comparison however to Robert Tear with Marriner+the Northern Sinfonia from 1971 still favours Johnson on chandos,for his deeper expressive insights i feel + greater clarity of recording.
all in all - a "new" marvel for me + a hugely successful release worthy of the Britten vocal works legacy. four stars going on five. now onto the Peter Pears versions..
I love Britten's music and Les Illuminations and Serenade are two of his most brilliant works. Felicity Lott sings wonderfully - she has a incredible technique and feel for the music, and the drama and excitement she puts into the performance make it even better. Anthony Rolfe Johnson is one of my very favourite singers, and my definite #1 for singing Britten (he has recorded quite a lot, and it is all perfect).
My only problem is the 4 french songs. I just don't like them. Of course, they are performed excellently, I just don't like them. But the fact that I'm still giving this CD 5 stars, despite these, surely is testament to the quality of the other two pieces...