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Briefly Noted: 'Such the tenor man told...'

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Britten, Songs, I. Bostridge, A. Pappano, X. Yang

(released on May 21, 2013)
EMI 4334302 | 70'15"
As noted earlier this week, the Britten centenary is yielding some welcome recordings of the composer's lesser-known works. Add to the list this disc of Britten's songs performed by tenor Ian Bostridge, who has the optimal type of voice for much of Britten's writing. Britten wrote most of these songs for his partner, tenor Peter Pears, and the poetry (like Michelangelo's sonnets dedicated to his lover Tommaso del Cavalieri) often seems to have appealed to Britten and Pears for personally significant reasons. Bostridge sings all of it with exquisite subtlety, a certain reservation and lightness with some loud and strident sounds deployed carefully. As with his performance in The Rape of Lucretia, the top of Bostridge's voice is not quite always suited, at least not when a high, heroic sound is required. That aside, these are exemplary performances of five groupings or cycles of songs, ranging from the odd fragments of Friedrich Hölderlin, at the edge of sanity, to the pacifist poetry of William Soutar and the Chinese paraphrases of Arthur Waley. The last of those was tailor-made for Pears's regular collaborator, guitarist Julian Bream, and the part is played here by Xuefei Yang. The highlight, to be sure, is Britten's extraordinary setting of the poetry of Thomas Hardy in Winter Words, especially the moving song The Choirmaster's Burial. In all of these songs, Britten's harmonic and rhythmic inventiveness -- writing as he was, almost for a private audience -- never ceases to divert the ear.

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