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Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Les Illuminations; Nocturne

Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Les Illuminations; Nocturne

5.0 1
by Ian Bostridge
Benjamin Britten's music for the tenor voice still seems to be owned, decades posthumously, by Peter Pears, whose recording of the composer's three great song cycles holds an especially treasured place in the discography. Nowadays, the mantle of Britten's leading interpreter has fallen to Ian Bostridge: With


Benjamin Britten's music for the tenor voice still seems to be owned, decades posthumously, by Peter Pears, whose recording of the composer's three great song cycles holds an especially treasured place in the discography. Nowadays, the mantle of Britten's leading interpreter has fallen to Ian Bostridge: With recordings of several of the composer's solo vocal works and operas to his credit, Bostridge has staked a claim to this repertoire for a decade now. But the present album is the one we've been waiting for. Bostridge has actually recorded the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings once before -- coupled unusually with the Strauss Horn Concertos -- but this new version puts the work in the context it deserves, bookended by the youthful exuberance of Les Illuminations and the spare elegies of the later Nocturne. The singer has a seemingly effortless way of sustaining a musical line while shading the words with nuances of meaning, the all-important text always coming through with admirable clarity. These works may have been written for the idiosyncrasies of Pears's voice, but they sound more marvelous than ever as sung by Bostridge. Praise is also due to horn soloist Radek Baborák, whose contribution to the Serenade perfectly sets this work's tone of ineffable yearning. And it must also be noted that this is yet another in a series of superb recent recordings from the Berlin Philharmonic led by Sir Simon Rattle, whose direction provides an ideally subtle and responsive underscoring. But in the end, this is Bostridge's show, and it's one of his most important recordings: Henceforth it must at least share the top recommendation in these works with Pears, while many listeners are likely to find that it has a decided edge over the venerable competition.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Eddins
Tenor Ian Bostridge brings together three of Britten's most important song cycles: "Serenade for tenor, horn and strings," "Les Illuminations," and "Nocturne." His performances are notable for their dramatic range, particularly the power and passion and vocal abandon he brings to these works. He fully inhabits the music, which leads to some daring interpretive choices. In "Serenade," there is a thrilling wildness to "Nocturne" that one does not usually associate with this music, his "Dirge" is a harrowing beacon of doom, and his performance of "Nocturne"'s "But that night when on my bed I lay," is crazed, almost demented sounding. At the opposite end of the spectrum, his "Sonnet" is sung with languid and woozy simplicity. The interpretive integrity of "Les Illuminations" makes the piece seem more like a mini-opera than a set of songs. Throughout, Bostridge's performance is notable for the radiance of his tone, the power of his voice over the wide range he is required to traverse, and a technique that allows him to produce an exquisite, almost inaudible mezza voce. Hornist Radek Baborák has a warm and robust tone, but his performance doesn't quite match the fire of Bostridge's. Simon Rattle, leading the Berlin Philharmonic, fully supports the singer's interpretive perspective. At the end of "Sonnet," though, the uncharacteristically poor intonation of the strings produces an unnerving pulsing pattern that destroys the music's mood of drugged serenity. Listeners who prefer their Britten to be well mannered may want to steer clear of this CD, but for anyone who wants a fresh take on these works, the pure visceral impact of Bostridge's performance is hard to beat. EMI's sound is present, clear, and resonant.
New York Times - Anthony Tommasini
The performances, while true to the Pears model, represent boldly reconsidered and bracingly fresh takes.... Mr. Bostridge, in his way, sings the ethereal passages in these scores with boyish lightness and shapes the phrases with cool elegance. Then, when the music heats up and turns sensual, he exudes a husky, almost adolescent virility.
Gramophone - Alan Blyth
[December 2005 CD of the Month] A profoundly considered and technically immaculate traversal of Britten's three great and varied cycles for tenor and orchestra.
The New Yorker - Russell Platt
In a tonally attractive but disturbingly detailed performance, [Bostridge] unmasks the [Nocturne] as a searing tragedy.... He and Rattle give the work's final moments...an almost shocking power.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Bostridge sings [this music] in a plummier style than Pears, and his attention to words and keen phrasing pays remarkable dividends. Sir Simon Rattle has an affinity for Britten's moods and colors, and the instrumental soloists - especially hornist Radek Baborak in the Serenade - are exceptional singers in their own right. [Grade: A]

Product Details

Release Date:
Warner Classics

Related Subjects


  1. Les illuminations, song cycle for high voice & strings, Op. 18
  2. Serenade, for tenor, horn & strings, Op. 31
  3. Nocturne, for tenor, 7 instruments & strings, Op. 60

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Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings; Les Illuminations; Nocturne 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ian Bostridge continues to astound with the variety of his repertoire and the glowing beauty of his richly burnished tenor voice and his enormous musicality. Here he sings three of Benjamin Britten's finest works and with him in collaboration are Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. An embarrassment of riches! Each of the three cycles feels as though Bostridge and Rattle are in complete agreement with Britten's intentions. 'Les Illuminations', designated as a work 'for high voice and strings', here benefits greatly from the timbre of Bostridge's baritone-infused tenor voice. The poems by Rimbaud were written by a man for a man and thus it feels more appropriate to have the male voice singing (though the numerous performances by sopranos do hold a special glow). Supported by some of the most lush strings sound ever recorded, Bostridge sings the songs with more passion than most. These are heartfelt and not the cerebral exercise they often receive. Yes, there are moments when memories of other performances rise - such as during the downward glissando of 'et je danse' when other singers caress every note in the fall. But the overall effect is very dramatic and, well, luminous. 'Serenade for tenor, horn and strings' finds Radek Baborak in the horn role. Again the pulsing Berlin strings under Rattle are almost unbearably beautiful. Bostridge's perfect diction again demonstrates how Britten was the finest composer for the English language. The cycle is involving in its survey of an interesting variety of poems. Likewise the Nocturne 'for tenor, seven obbligato instruments an strings' is a mature work of Britten's and has echoes of phrases from what by the time of its composition were closely identified with the 'Britten sound'. Again Bostridge sings with such purity of line and intense communication. His voice and thinking are married in a perfect effect. Perhaps it is the fact that Bostridge commits his concert time to demanding lieder recitals with piano that makes him one of the most sought after vocal artists of the day. When he steps in front of an orchestra, especially such as the Berlin ensemble with Rattle on the podium, he is wholly at home with these beautiful but technically difficult cycles, and the degree of communication of both the music and the poetry are extraordinary. An added bonus with this CD is the personal set of program notes written by Bostridge. Highly recommended. Grady Harp