Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Les Illuminations for tenor and strings Op.18 (1939) [22:20]
Serenade for tenor, horn and strings Op.31 (1943) [23:20]
Nocturne for tenor, seven obbligato instruments and strings Op.60 (1958) [28:23]
Jerry Hadley (tenor); Anthony Halstead (horn); Michael Hirst (flute); Paul Arden Taylor (cor anglais); David Campbell (clarinet); Keith Rubach (bassoon); Stephen Roberts (horn); Rachel Masters (harp); Peter Hamburger (timpani)
English String Orchestra/William Boughton
rec. Great Hall, University of Birmingham, 26-28 August 1989
NIMBUS NI 5234 [74:13]
Jerry Hadley (1952-2007) and William Boughton give Les Illuminations a rousing performance. Whether you can take Hadley’s voice is a matter of taste. He attacks every word with heroically declamatory defiance. However it would be unfair to ignore Hadley’s more inward qualities brought fully to bear in Phrase and the serenading Antique. At least he is not precious – no, not even in Marine. In the Serenade Anthony Halstead sends the wild echoes burbling and flying with a little less grit than Nicholas Busch in my favoured Ian Partridge version (CFP). I find it difficult to abide the much vaunted Peter Pears version although others with more tolerance and better judgement should hear Pears and Britten (Decca and Regis) before deciding. Hadley sings the challengingly exposed vocal part with great style and Boughton has the ESO in fine heart – listen to the stabbing impacts of Nocturne. The Elegy works as well as I have heard it in Hadley’s hands. The framing solos for the French horn remind me how I discovered this work – it was through the framing outer movements being used for a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of The Eagle of the Ninth. The Nocturne is in a single 29 minute track which is a pity. The music is enchanting and I found myself appreciating this work more than in any previous version – especially the harp and cantabile episode at 8:08. The animal sounds at 12:00 recalled Britten’s first and greatest song-cycle: Our Hunting Fathers. The texts are printed in a sensibly sized font in the booklet. I enjoyed this collection much more that I had thought and much of this is down to the very qualities in Hadley’s voice that others may find a problem. Other versions are numerous. I do not know the Bostridge or Ainsley discs. I have heard Robert Tear’s 1970s versions but do not warm to his tendency towards vinegar nasality. Hadley’s Britten represents a marmite moment.
See also review by William Hedley
I enjoyed this collection much more that I had thought and much of this is down to the very qualities in Hadley’s voice that others may find a problem. It’s a marmite moment.