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Britten: Songs, Vol. 2 / Atherton, Johnston, Clayton, Tritschler


Release Date: 12/13/2011 
Label:  Onyx   Catalog #: 4079   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Allan ClaytonMalcolm MartineauJennifer JohnstonMartin Martineau,   ... 
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BRITTEN Songs, Volume 2 Elizabeth Atherton (sop); Jennifer Johnston (ms); Allan Clayton, Benjamn Hulett, Nicky Spence, Robin Tritschler (tenor); Benedict Nelson (bar); Malcolm Martineau (pn) ONYX 4079 (2 CDs: 135:04 Text and Translation)


This is the second installment in the cycle of all of Britten’s songs for voice and piano. As with the first, these derive from the 2009 Aldeburgh Festival and are under the steady accompanying hands of Malcolm Martineau. Together, the two sets Read more present 118 songs, which chimes with Britten’s own guess of how many he had written. It does not count the eight books of folk-song settings, the Purcell realizations, nor the unison set for children, Friday Afternoons (1936).


What we have here are the remaining cycles, Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo (1940), A Charm of Lullabies (1947), Who Are These Children? (1969), Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (1965), and On This Island (1937), as well as a miscellany under the title of The Red Cockatoo , and a number of single songs. However, there also seem to be yet more Britten songs around, some unfinished, some just in manuscript, if no more cycles, and the four given here as From “Fish in the Unruffled Lakes” have, in their currently published form, two more not sung on these recordings. It has always seemed to me that, as a songwriter, Britten is much underestimated and not much performed, apart from a couple of the cycles. Taken together, then, these four CDs give us a well-performed conspectus of his work in that field.


As the first of the present CDs includes Britten’s last cycle, Who Are These Children? and the second his first, On This Island , we might want to see these as markers of the darkening of Britten’s musical thought over the 30 years between. There was more music, of course, and even of a refreshingly comic turn, as in Albert Herring (1947), but the themes become steadily weightier, even in his songs.


In the Michelangelo sonnets, Allan Clayton takes a more intense approach to the words than Peter Pears did in his famous 1954 recording, partly, I think, due to the urgent quality in his voice. One of the surprises here, though, is his gently sung early song to a text by James Joyce, “Chamber Music (V),” set by Britten in 1930. Jennifer Johnston sings the Charm of Lullabies straighforwardly, leaving comment on the depth of the texts to the piano, though Britten has made the rather exasperated, even vicious fourth one, “A Charm,” a small scene, which Johnston clearly enjoys.


Who Are These Children? is a dark cycle in Scottish and English taken from poems by William Soutar. Though its texts do not make for easy listening, I think this is a major song cycle that needs to be explored by more singers. Nicky Spence catches well its bleak vision, and Martineau expresses exactly the right unforgiving tone in the accompaniment.


The Blake songs represent the most pessimistic side of Britten’s compositional face. Not even the pianississimo F-Major chord at the end offers much relief. Though Benedict Nelson’s baritone is not powerful, he projects the darkness unflinchingly. The contrast with the songs of On This Island , sung by Elizabeth Atherton, could not be greater. Their general ebullience leaves the whole program on an upbeat note. The Red Cockatoo is a posthumously assembled group of mostly prewar songs. Because they were not thought of as a set, their texts are not coherent, as in a cycle, and the settings are clearly done individually. They have been arranged for variety, and include Britten’s first setting (1935) of Blake’s “The Poison Tree,” a song Britten himself described at the time as “not much good” (but it’s still pretty good). This is followed by a cabaret-like setting of Auden’s “When You’re Feeling Like Expressing Your Affection.” Benjamin Hullett, who is mostly to be heard in opera, sings these mixed songs delightfully and with evident pleasure. I look forward to hearing him sing more songs. Robin Tritschler, whose performance of Winter Words I particularly liked on the previous volume of these songs, only gets three songs here, but he gives them full measure.


As with the previous volume, I can recommend this one not simply for Britten completists, but for its own pleasures, not the least of which is getting to meet younger British singers.


FANFARE: Alan Swanson
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Works on This Recording

1.
Sonnets (7) of Michelangelo, Op. 22 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Allan Clayton (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; England 
2.
A Charm of Lullabies, Op. 41 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Jennifer Johnston (Mezzo Soprano), Martin Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; England 
3.
Who are these Children?, Op. 84 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Nicky Spence (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969; England 
4.
Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, Op. 74 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Benedict Nelson (Baritone), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965; England 
5.
On this Island, Op. 11 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Elizabeth Atherton (Soprano), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; England 
6.
Dans le bois by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Elizabeth Atherton (Soprano), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
7.
Gloriana, Op. 53: Second Lute Song of the Earl of Essex by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Allan Clayton (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
8.
Chamber Music V by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Allan Clayton (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
9.
The Birds by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Martin Martineau (Piano), Jennifer Johnston (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929/1934; England 
10.
If it's ever spring again by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Robin Tritschler (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
11.
Children and Sir Nameless by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Robin Tritschler (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
12.
Dawtie's Devotion by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Nicky Spence (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969; England 
13.
Gully by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Nicky Spence (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969; England 
14.
Tradition by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Nicky Spence (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969; England 
15.
Of all the airts the wind can blow by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Nicky Spence (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
16.
Oh why did e'er my thoughts by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Benedict Nelson (Baritone), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
17.
The sun shines down by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Benjamin Hulett (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
18.
What's on your mind? by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Benjamin Hulett (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
19.
Fish in the Unruffled Lakes: no 4, Fish in the unruffled lakes by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Robin Tritschler (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
20.
Fish in the Unruffled Lakes: no 6, Underneath the abject willow by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Robin Tritschler (Tenor), Malcolm Martineau (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 

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