Classical CD Reviews

BRITTEN: Winter Words; Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo; Six Folk Song Arrangements – Nicholas Phan, tenor/ Myra Huang, p. – Avie

Top of the world, ma. A Winter Words winner, and the other music easily match it.

Published on October 4, 2013

BRITTEN: Winter Words, Op. 52; Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, Op. 22; Six Folk Song Arrangements – Nicholas Phan, tenor/ Myra Huang, piano – Avie 2238,  58:17 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

There has been a spate of fine Winter Words recently—two that I have been quite taken with are Mark Padmore’s sumptuous reading on Harmonia mundi and Robin Tritschler’s idiomatic and unaffected rendition on the first volume of the Onyx series of Britten’s complete songs.

But if forced to choose, I think I would go with this new recording by Nicholas Phan, a rising young American tenor whose star is commensurate with the evanescent and thoroughly unmannered singing on this wonderful disc. Winter Words, an acquired taste for many (for some odd reason) is surely one of the premier song cycles of the last 150 years, and Phan’s marvelously ebullient and soaring rendition places it first on my list. Worlds apart from the Hardy settings is The Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, maybe Britten’s most challenging and difficult cycle, certainly demanding of any singer attempting it with its almost bel canto-like long-held legato, wide leaps, and complex harmonic structure. But Phan finds no such problems with it and sings it as easily as one might approach Copland’s Old American Songs—simply and with no affection of interpretation.

Rounding out the program, in two separate sets of three, are selections from the terrific Folk Songs, as beautiful a collection of native melodies as has ever been assembled by anyone in any country. This is evidently a studio recording from New York but the results are as if it was done in the most accommodating recital hall, with fine aural support of the voice and piano. And, it must be said, the piano is excellent, Myra Huang seeming to enjoy the Britten journey as much as her tenor. Recommended with much enthusiasm.

—Steven Ritter

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