It was the late, lamented
Luciano Berio that claimed there must
be something dubious about a country
without folk music, but it could equally
have been Benjamin Britten. Of all British
composers there is none other who evokes
such a close association with the native
idiom or such intimate relationship
with a sense of place. One of the first
things that strikes you is just how
wide Britten’s interest in folk material
was, drawn as it was from all over the
To better accommodate
the six volumes on 2CDs from the 3CDs
they originally occupied on their Collins
Classics release, Naxos have omitted
some other more minor material and reordered
the tracks. For anyone wishing to take
the sets in order a certain amount of
track and disc shuffling must ensue,
but this is far from essential to the
overall enjoyment. Many individual songs
may well be familiar to listeners, as
they were to me, but this was my first
encounter with the sets as a whole.
It has been a richly rewarding experience.
All the artists recorded
here have a long association with Britten’s
music. Langridge’s stage assumptions
of Britten’s key tenor roles have been
among the glories of the opera world
for many years. If his song recital
activity has not received quite the
same adulation, it is for no want of
quality or insight as previous Naxos
reissues have surely proven.
The point has been
made before about the similarity in
some respects between Langridge’s voice
and that of Peter Pears, for whom so
much of Britten’s music was written.
Both bring a lively imagination to the
word pointing of individual songs, coupled
with excellent diction and superb intonation.
But it is the intimacy and affection
within the performances, matching that
felt by Britten for the material in
the first place, that proves infectious
here. Listen to the playfulness in ‘The
Crocodile’ (CD1, track 10) or the beautifully
rapt rendition of ‘The Salley Gardens’
(CD 1, track 1), to give but two examples.
If Langridge carries
the lion’s share of material, the contribution
of Dame Felicity Lott is no less important.
It is probably the closest thing to
heresy in some quarters to admit this,
but I have not always been totally convinced
by her stage portrayals. But again it
was the intimacy of tone that drew me
in here. Some songs are more artful,
others more earthy and characterful.
Given Dame Felicity’s
prowess with French it is appropriate
that she take the bulk of the Volume
2 songs, with Britten’s accompaniments
being suitably Gallic in flavour. Langridge’s
contributions, here as elsewhere, provide
a piquant counterpoint.
The few duets work
wonderfully: ‘The deaf woman’s courtship’
proving a particular highlight of interplay.
Throughout Graham Johnson proves a sensitive
accompanist, crisp, articulate though
not overly forward. The final set is
of interest for the employment of guitar
accompaniment, which Carlos Bonell takes
well. However, there is competition
in the pairing of Pears and Julian Bream
(BMG-RCA). The present collection ends
most hauntingly with a German folk-song,
and a wordless setting given to cello
and piano. Pointing to a new direction
in Britten’s concern with folk material,
it is interesting to ponder where this
would have taken him.
With succinct yet insightful
notes, texts (though hardly needed due
to the superb diction of both singers),
and translations of the French, Naxos
supports an excellent release admirably.
Anyone wanting Britten’s folk-song arrangements
can safely acquire this pleasurable
set without fear of disappointment.
see also review
by Em Marshall