A collection of Britten songs

An essential collection of songs for solo voice and piano.

Composer: Britten
Repertoire: Songs, Vol. 1
Artists: Caryl Hughes, Andrew Tortise, James Greer, Ben Johnson, Katherine Broderick, Nicky Spence, Robin Tritschler, Philip Smith and Malcolm Martineau
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Vocal
Label: Onyx 4071

The Music: Songs were the foundation of Benjamin Britten’s composing life – and his best cycles match those of any great 19th century lieder composer. This collection of works for solo voice and piano includes early boyhood pieces of the 1920s as well as significant later works such as The Holy Sonnets of John Donne. 

The Performance: One of the world’s most esteemed accompanists, Malcolm Martineau is here everything Britten himself could have wished for – elegant and authoritative, yet exquisitely modulating his playing to the emotional requirements of each piece and never overshadowing the eight young singers taking it in turns to stand beside him. These perform well – tenor James Greer injects softness into the German text of the Sechs Hölderlin Fragmente while assured soprano Katherine Broderick has her hands (and vocal chords) full with The Poet’s Echo, settings of six poems by Pushkin in their original Russian. 

The Verdict: The five world premiere recordings make this a must for Britten fans, while pieces such as the playful, Cole Porter-inspired Four Cabaret Songs with words by Auden, will doubtless also appeal to many passers-by. 

Want More? Trydecca’s famous recording
of Serenade, Nocturne and Les Illuminations, Britten’s orchestral song cycles featuring partner Peter Pears (Decca Classics,
436 3952).