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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
The foggy, foggy dew [2.32]
Sally in our alley [4.10]
Tom Bowling [4.28]
A brisk young widow [2.01]
O Waly Waly [3.32]
Sweet Polly Oliver [2.28]
Early one morning [2.57]
The bonny Earl o’Moray [2.29]
The ash grove [2.45]
Come you not from Newcastle [1.13]
Le roi s’en va-t’en chasse [3.21]
La belle est au Jardin d’amour [2.4]
The minstrel boy [1.55]
How sweet the answer [2.07]
The last rose of summer [3.54]
Avenging and bright [1.26]
Oft in the stilly night [2.34]
The miller of Dee [1.44]
Ca’ the yowes [3.50]
The plough boy [2.05]
Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano)
1-4 recorded October, 5-21 recorded 1961, at Kingsway Hall, London

From Britten's prodigious arrangements of folksongs here is a selection of twenty-one, all fairly well-known ones, recorded in 1959 and 1961 with Pears accompanied by Britten at the piano. This most authentic collection was previously available on the London label (released in 1990). As one would expect, the standard of performance is outstanding. Britten and Pears have a tendency to take the songs at a fairly steady pace, and are not over-sentimental but bring out the nuances incredibly effectively. The disc commences with a gentle, rocking The Foggy Foggy Dew and includes a beautifully impassioned Sally in our Alley - exquisitely tender and moving at the end, a sparkling and lively The Lincolnshire Poacher, and an utterly brilliant The bonny Earl o'Moray. The contrast between bold and brash, rich and full in The Minstrel Boy, and heart-meltingly tender and ethereal in the ensuing How sweet the Answer is wonderful and demonstrates Pears' consummate skill and instinctive grasp of these songs. The disc finishes on a dynamic note with The Plough Boy, which is animated, dashing and vivacious. Pears has gorgeous enunciation and is a joy to listen to, and - as one might well guess! - there is a tremendous rapport between him and Britten, as they bring these charming songs so alluringly and evocatively to life. The sound is excellent, and the choice of songs delightfully varied. My only quibble would be the presentation of the sleeve insert - the notes are not up to the usual Decca standard, are printed in a fairly awful type-face (copied directly from the old London disc, it would seem) and (as usual for the British Music Collection) don't include any biographical information about the performers.

There is a disgraceful dearth of recordings of Britten’s folksongs in the catalogues currently, although good old Hyperion offers a 2-disc set with Malcolm Martineau accompanying Lorna Anderson, Regina Nathan and Jamie MacDougall, and there are some "folksong" discs available which present a range of composers and often include a few songs by Britten. One of my favourite versions of the Britten folksongs is the Collins complete edition (including the unpublished songs), with a fantastic line-up including Philip Langridge, Thomas Allen, Felicity Lott and the BBC Singers, with the Northern Sinfonia, Graham Johnson and David Owen Norris providing superlative accompaniment. Given that this superb and singularly comprehensive edition is no longer available, the Decca disc is all the more welcome, and is a valuable addition to the fantastic British Music Collection series. This comes very highly recommended.

Em Marshall

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