At least on disc,
Frank Lloyd is a remarkably under-rated player in the UK, so
it is good to have his Britten Serenade on disc as a reminder
of his stature. The Prologue for solo horn is here truly beautiful
- the sounding ‘C’ (the second pitch we hear) is perfectly placed,
and every succeeding note is carefully placed. The flat natural
harmonic (sounding D natural near the end) retains Britten’s
intention as expressive effect; too often it just sounds out
needs no introduction, of course. His sound is quintessentially
English, his phrasing entirely natural. Hear how he liltingly
teases the words, ‘A little, little flock’, for example. More
importantly, the two soloists work well together, something
particularly apparent in the second song, ‘Nocturne’, with the
horn imitating a bugle’s calls and those calls’ echoes.
Of course there
is a great feeling that this music ‘belongs’ to Peter Pears
... and Dennis Brain, for that matter. How laudable that Langridge
makes the ‘hunting’ movement, paradoxically named ‘Hymn’, all
his own. The nimble-tongued Lloyd makes the horn’s pyrotechnics,
for such they are, sound easy.
It is true that
this account does not plumb the depths of the aforementioned
Pears/Brain account with the Boyd Neel String Orchestra (currently
on Decca British Music Collection 468 801-2 coupled with Walton’s
Façade). Langridge/Lloyd do not quite capture Britten’s
all-important darker side … nevertheless this remains an involving,
are all-important, and Naxos offers the Op. 60 Nocturne
and one of Britten’s most interesting scores, Phaedra.
The Nocturne is a setting of eight poems by Shelley,
Tennyson, Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Middleton, Wordsworth, Owen,
Keats and Shakespeare. Instead of one solo obbligato instrument
Britten highlights different instruments to impart a distinct
colour to each poet. The harmonic language is more advanced
in this work, making the long, aching vocal lines even more
demanding, a challenge Langridge rises to magnificently. There
is wit here, too. The capricious, mock-evil ‘Below the thunders
of the deep’, with its slithering bassoon representing the Kraken,
is a lovely divertissement between the first movement and the
hypnotic, harp-flecked third.
imagination is the stuff of legend and nowhere is this as well
demonstrated as in this movement, with its sparse scoring. The
horn’s entrance, marking the beginning of ‘Midnight’s bells’
seems retrospectively inevitable, while in the context of the
present disc links Op. 60 to Op. 31. This work demands more
exposure in the concert hall, surely? The sheer aching loneliness
of the cor anglais ‘She sleeps on soft, last breaths’ alone
should be enough to make it register unforgettably in the memory.
Throughout, the Northern Sinfonia loses nothing to the ECO.
Op. 93, received a famous recording by Janet Baker - interestingly,
with this orchestra and conductor; it is now appended to the
present Decca incarnation of the composer’s own recording of
The Rape of Lucretia on Decca London 425 666-2. The subject
of forbidden love struck a chord with Britten, whose score (Britten’s
last major work) is a masterpiece.
In her portrayal
of the protagonist’s emotions, Ann Murray loses out to no-one.
Her swooping lines at ‘Phaedra in all her madness stands before
you’ (track 20) convey precisely that.
tracks Phaedra’s shifting, desperate emotions unerringly. Bedford
ensures the ECO is no less chameleon-like in its responses.
expertly played, then. It is marvellous that the Collins catalogue
is once more available; even more marvellous, of course, that
it comes with a bargain basement price tag!