BRITTEN: Song Cycles – Ian Bostridge, tenor/Radek Baborak, horn;/ Berliner Philharmonic/Sir Simon Rattle – EMI

by | Nov 27, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BRITTEN: Song Cycles – Ian Bostridge, tenor/Radek Baborak, horn;/ Berliner Philharmonic/Sir Simon Rattle – EMI 5580492 ***:

They astound while they confound. Benjamin Britten’s late song cycles
are compositional paradoxes. Sometimes his music, like the Rimbaud
poems in Les Illuminations, is deeply felt, anxious, rich in aural
imagery, anguished, even arch– like Rimbaud’s poetry. His choice of
keys is spot on, and his take on the last poem, “Départ,” raises as
much gooseflesh as “Der Leiermann” (the organ grinder) in Schubert’s
Die Winterreise. In Serenade, Britten’s “Dirge” features an urgent
relentless melody in strophic form, while the string and horn
accompaniment takes delightfully unexpected turns. In these first two
song cycles, the music fits the poetry like well-worn kid gloves.

Then there are the less successful forays that prompt the question:
What’s going on here? Why did he choose that silly poem (Middleton’s
“Master Constable”) to try out sound effects? Why does the music he
wrote for Shakespeare’s sonnet “When most I wink” just trudge along
rather than sway seductively? And the biggest question: why does half
of the vocal music in the cycle Nocturne fall short of its perky
instrumental accompaniment? We’ll never know. Yet if you like Britten,
consider purchasing this recording, for it is a decent one. It is
several notches above Bostridge’s last effort (a second take on
Schubert’s Die Schöne Mullerin). This time the tenor doesn’t
over-dramatize or fillip us with snappy special effects. He does still
italicize some fortissimo phrases, like “massacre” in Wordworth’s
Prelude segment or “sponges” in The Kraken. Other tenors such as Jerry
Hadley find this unnecessary. So the set is worth owning for its
brilliant moments, and if you’re a forgiving listener, you may even
ignore its compositional and interpretive quirks.

– Peter Bates
 

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