The Britten Nocturne is a hidden gem
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 02/18/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"EMI cared so little about Robert Tear's recording of Britten's Nocturne for tenor and seven solo instruments that they don't even list it on the cover of this Red Line CD. But it's the gem here, not the rather average Midsummer Night's Dream incidental music from Tate and the Rotterdam Phil. For anyone who appreciates Britten's great vocal works, comparison always comes down to Peter Pears, the singer for whom almost every work was written over a span of three decades.
This is one instance where Pears is bettered by another artist. The Nocturne isn't a charming, melodic work like the more famous Serenade for tenor, horn, and strings, even though it is closely related to that work, both being suites drawn from English lyric verse. The Nocturne is in an almost atonal style, and the poems have a linked theme of night, ranging in mood, however, from the grotesque to the deeply melancholy--few are happy and none are serenades. Pears brought great artistry to his recording with Britten, but his voice wasn't in the best shape. Tear's is in perfect shape, and as pure singing his version leaves Pears far behind.
In addition, Tear doesn't imitate Pears' uniquely nuanced, sensitive style but goes on his own path, which is highly dramatic, forceful, and extroverted. The piece is strong enough to sound wonderful both ways, and I hope more people will discover this great performance--I hit on it by chance--which also features remarkable solo work from the winds of the English chamber Orch. and nice sound to boot."