Britten: Winter Words

Britten: Winter Words

by Nicholas Phan

CD(Jewel Case)

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Britten: Winter Words

American tenor Nicholas Phan's first solo recital features two of Britten's most important song cycles and a handful of his folk song settings. "Winter Words," eight settings of Thomas Hardy, dates from 1954, just before "The Turn of the Screw," and it includes some of the composer's most distinctive and immediately appealing songs. "Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo" was one of the first works Britten wrote for Peter Pears, and the 1940 cycle one of his most vocally demanding compositions, so demanding that the singer postponed its premiere a year while he honed his technique enough to master the songs. It's just about impossible, for better or for worse, to avoid comparisons of new performances with those of Pears, whose vocal idiosyncrasies played an important role in shaping the music itself. Phan's voice is ideal for "Winter Words"; it's significantly more substantial and robust than Pears' in its weight, resonance, and power, and it's no less expressive. He has a bright, ringing top that can soar when necessary, and he has plenty of agility to manage the composer's distinctive coloratura demands. He also has the control to project the quietest, most intimate moments with sweetness and without loss of focus, as in "The Little Old Table." Phan's voice doesn't have the easy Italianate warmth that's ideal for the fiery bel canto lyricism the "Michelangelo Sonnets," and his production tends to sound forced in the sections calling for the most power. He's not helped in that regard by the extreme closeness of the recording, which is not so problematic when he is singing more quietly. He delivers the folk songs with charming directness. Pianist Myra Huang provides a muscular but refined accompaniment.

Product Details

Release Date: 09/13/2011
Label: Avie
UPC: 0822252223828
catalogNumber: 2238


  1. The Plough Boy, folksong for voice & piano (Folk Songs, Vol. 3)
  2. The last rose of summer, for voice & piano (Folk Songs, Vol. 4)
  3. The Ash Grove, for voice & piano (Folk Songs, Vol. 1)
  4. Winter Words, song cycle for tenor & piano, Op. 52
  5. Sonnets (7) of Michelangelo, for voice & piano, Op. 22
  6. The Salley Gardens, for voice & piano (Folk Songs, Vol. 1)
  7. Little Sir William, for voice & piano (Folk Songs, Vol. 1)
  8. Come you not from Newcastle?, for voice & piano (Folk Songs, Vol. 3)

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Britten: Winter Words 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Grady1GH More than 1 year ago
Nicholas Phan has finally completed a solo recording on CD that will likely push his already established popularity on the concert stages and opera houses around the world into the realm of notoriety he deserves. The young and strikingly handsome Nicholas Phan was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1979. He studied at the University of Michigan and the Manhattan School of Music and made his professional operatic debut with Glimmerglass Opera, has been a member of Wolf Trap Opera and the Houston Grand Opera Studio. He has performed many roles in some of the finest opera houses and is known not only for the purity of his vocal production but also for his magnetic stage presence. But it is even more impressive to not that Phan has elected to debut on recordings with not the usual variety of tenor operatic arias, but instead informs us of his superior musicianship and taste by offering this collection of the works of Benjamin Britten - no easy task even for the most practiced tenor. The performances on this recital, with Myra Huang his collaborator at the piano, reveal a very pure and sure vocal production with no breaks in this vocal line. There is a suggestion of the sound that the young Peter Pears had in his performances and recordings of these works - and that is only a compliment as Pears is still considered by most as the gold standard for the works composed for him by Britten. Phan opens his recital with a work not well known even to Britten aficionados, Winter Words, Op. 52. Accoriding to the notes 'Winter Words' was written in 1954, and sets eight poems by Thomas Hardy about the fleetingness of experience, which contrast brief instances (a boy's boredom on a long train ride, the creak of an old table, a certain light in the trees in November) against the unfeeling vastness of time. Throughout the cycle Britten juxtaposes bursts of figuration against extended, repetitive chordal patterns. The closing song, Before Life and after, is one of Hardy's most outspoken declamations on this theme. Over a slow, solemn procession of triadic harmonies, it remembers A time there was [...] When all went well, a primal state before the disease of feeling germed, and yearns for such a time again. The setting of the final lines, which end: How long, how long?, are generally regarded to be among Britten's most haunting passages.' Phan's enunciation is perfection - not only because every word is clear but also because he finds the poetic expression of each phrase. This is an extraordinarily beautiful song cycle and Nicholas Phan sings it as well as any tenor today. The other song cycle he offers on this recital is the challenging Seven Sonnets Of Michelangelo Op. 22. Phan (and Huang) find the lyricism here and the particular sensitivity of the poetry. Britten composed Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo in 1940 during his sojourn in America. It's the first song cycle devoted to his partner Peter Pears. Britten had chosen Michelangelo sonnets number XVI, XXXI, ***, LV, XXXVIII, XXXII and XXIV. Perhaps it is no coincidence that six of the selected sonnets Michelangelo wrote expressly for Tommaso Cavalieri, and only one for an unknown woman. At the end of the second sonnet of the cycle, "A che più debb'io mai..."...", Michelangelo clearly expressed Cavalieri's name.' Phan's delivery assures us that he understands these underpinnings and his interpretation is solid and beautiful.