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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Folk Song Arrangements – 2

Eight Folk Song Arrangements for High Voice and Harp [18:43]: (Lord! I married me a wife [1:16]; She’s like a swallow [2:43]; Bonny at morn [1:26]; Lemady [3:16]; Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn [2:20]; Dafydd y Garreg Wen [3:04]; The False Knight upon the Road [3:40]; Bird Scarer’s Song [0:56])
The Holly and the Ivy [3:18]
King Herod and the Cock [2:05]
The Twelve Apostles [6:10]
The Bitter Withy [5:08]
Orchestral Arrangements [30:32]: (Le roi s’en va-t’en chasse [2:13]; Fileuse [1:38]; Eho! Eho! [1:49]; La belle est un jardin d’amour [2:29]; Quand j’étais chez mon père [1:52]); The Salley Gardens [2:49]; Little Sir William [2:52]; The Bonny Earl o’Moray [2:38]; O can ye sew cushions? [2:14]; Oliver Cromwell [0:40]; The Plough Boy [ 1:58]; O Waly, Waly [3:22]; Come you not from Newcastle [1:11]; The Salley Gardens [2:43]
Philip Langridge, tenor (1-8, 10-12, 19-16); Osian Ellis, harp (1-8); Margaret Feaviour, soprano (9); Judith Harris, mezzo (9); Vernon Kirk, tenor (9); Graham Titus, baritone (9); BBC Singers (Simon Joly) (9); Wenhaston Boys Choir/Christopher Barnett (10-12); David Owen Norris, piano (10-12); Thomas Allen, baritone (13-18); Northern Sinfonia/Steuart Bedford (13-26).
rec. London, Snape, Newcastle, January-June 1995. DDD
NAXOS 8.557222 [66.13]

I was delighted to see that Naxos has now reissued the third and final disc of the original Collins complete Britten folksongs. Although some of these songs are a little strange, they are all interesting, particularly those with orchestral accompaniment.

The disc opens with the Eight Folk Songs for high voice and harp, which were written for Pears and Osian Ellis – pleasingly enough, the accompanist on this recording. Philip Langridge is the tenor. Langridge’s voice is one that, as a general rule, suits Britten perfectly and these songs are no exception. He perfectly captures the bitterness and anger in Lord I married me a wife, and his slightly breathy delivery is extremely evocative in She’s like the swallow. He creates a powerful and harsh tone that is brilliant in the Bird Scarer’s Song, and is very expressive in the fantastic Lemady. The harp is particularly lovely in Bonny at Morn, with its little interjections, and of the two Welsh folks songs, Dafydd y Garreg Wen is especially haunting. Langridge’s enunciation is excellent as always.

These are followed by a delightful unaccompanied arrangement of The Holly and the Ivy – superbly performed by the BBC Singers under Simon Joly, with Margaret Feaviour, Judith Harris, Vernon Kirk and Graham Titus as soloists.

Three songs written for the London Boy Singers – King Herod and the Cock, the fun The Twelve Apostles and The Bitter Withy are confidently sung by the Wenhaston Boys Choir under Christopher Barnett. These songs are very effective, particularly with Philip Langridge as the tenor, and David Owen Norris as the superb accompanist.

The rest of the disc is taken up by Britten’s orchestral arrangements. Many of these are a little odd, and in general are rather ‘over the top’, not working quite as well as the versions with piano accompaniment (as exemplified by Oliver Cromwell).

Steuart Bedford conducts the Northern Sinfonia, and Thomas Allen and Philip Langridge are the soloists. The first five on the disc come from Britten’s arrangements of French folk songs, and commence with the well known Le Roi s’en va-t’en chasse. Thomas Allen is beautifully sensitive, creating an excellent contrast between the king and the maiden Marie, accompanied by a translucent orchestra, and fantastically punchy trumpet.

The orchestral accompaniment to the ensuing Fileuse is bizarrely threatening. Britten’s use of woodwind in these arrangements is good, with a lovely presence in La belle est un jardin d’amour, nice jaunty woodwind in Little Sir William and an evocative ploughboy’s pipe/whistle effect in The Plough Boy. The orchestration works well in the latter two, as also in the Bonny Earl O’ Moray, where it increases the sense of dramaticism. There are two versions of The Salley Gardens, the first of which is for string orchestra only and includes a gorgeous solo cello introduction, and the second is set for strings, bassoon and harp, which is beautifully expressive in this orchestration.

The singing is of the highest standard – sensitive and insightful throughout, and both solo accompanists and orchestra are highly accomplished. I certainly recommend this disc to any fan of folksong, or of Britten’s always fascinating and brilliant, if occasionally a little strange, music!

Em Marshall




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