> Britten Serenade Walton facade [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings

Sally in our Alley
The Bonny Earl oíMoray
The Last Rose of Summer
Avenging and Bright
William WALTON (1902-1983)


Peter Pears, tenor
Dennis Brain, horn
Benjamin Britten, piano
The Boyd Neel String Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Britten
Dame Edith Sitwell
Peter Pears
English Opera Group Ensemble conducted by Anthony Collins
Recorded 1944-1961
DECCA 468 801-2 [73í42]


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Self-recommending of course. The transfers are generally good but surprisingly the Serenade sounds a little rough and ready. As for the performances I donít think thereís much I can add to the encomia devoted to these recordings down the years. I would suggest Ė and it hardly takes much suggesting Ė that these are all first choice recordings and the coupling is apt insofar as the ambiguous relationship between the composers allow, though the disjunction of the musical sensibility of the works is so marked as to be almost absurd. As far as Façade is concerned Iím disappointed that Decca have failed to identify the personnel of the English Opera Group conducted with such nonchalant skill by ex-violist Anthony Collins. For the record they include James Blades, Richard Temple Savage, David Mason, Stephen Waters; the cellists are Terence Weil and Ė no less Ė Anthony "Charlie" Pini.

Sitwell is magnificent in the idiosyncratic recitation and Pears only slightly less so. The delivery is crisp and itís still instructive hearing Sitwell dispatch her own lines with such unselfconscious brio and intonational interest. The Marriner Man features Temple Savageís fabulous bass clarinet and the following Long Steel Grass Stephen Watersí trumpet. Collins keeps a taut rhythmic drive in Through Gilded Tresses whilst Pears himself shines in the tongue-twisting Tango-Pasodoble, aided by trumpet, drum and an immense swing. And even after these years Pearsí throwaway doesnít understand at all in A Man from a Far Countree has never been matched. Delicious. The instrumental textures of By the Lake are well worth studying, from the wind to cellos to the final resigned pizzicatos. Façade isnít all about recitation and one of the most outstanding aspects of this performance is the instrumental contribution made by such distinguished musicians. Collins keeps a laudable control over the increasingly hypnotic instrumentation of Four in the Morning (prominent being the alto saxophone of, I believe, Michael Krein). Heís certainly to the fore in a riotous Jodelling Song and Waters returns to give a superb lift to his trumpeting in the Popular Song.

The never-matched Serenade has now spent nearly sixty years as the recording by which others are judged. Noting the less than perfect sound is the only blot. Itís accompanied by four folksongs recorded between 1959-61 by Pears and Britten, two by Thomas Moore, and worth the hearing if you donít know them. Texts of the Serenade are provided.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Hubert Culot

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