Mark Padmore

Benjamin Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings

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Tenor Mark Padmore has an ideal voice for these two Britten song cycles written for Peter Pears. He has the kind of musical sensitivity and attentiveness to textual subtleties that characterized Pears' singing. His voice is essentially light in the way that Pears' was, but his is infinitely more attractive. Its tone is clear and pure, with none of Pears' nasal quality, and can be sweet without sounding precious. Padmore's technique seems absolutely secure and while his instrument is not large, he can produce an impressive range of dynamics. He and horn player Stephen Bell deliver a terrific performance of the Serenade for tenor, horn, and strings, and Jacqueline Shave's leadership of the Britten Sinfonietta is energetic and nuanced. Padmore's phrasing is shapely and expressive and he can spin out the seamless legato most of these songs require. In "Hymn," he and Bell sing and play with nimble fleetness that seems thrillingly close to the edge of spinning out of control but that ultimately lands safely. The performance of "Dirge" is charged with darker-than-usual sinister energy; the running string figures that follow the canon seem here more like a demonic dance than a dirge, to wonderful, scary effect. There is no lack of topnotch recordings of the Serenade, but this is a version that anyone who loves the piece will want to hear. In Nocturne, Padmore again excels in bringing intelligent and sensitive, sometimes soaring musicality to the songs. Finzi's cycle Dies Natalis is something of a novelty, but it fits well with the Britten. His harmonic language is eloquently post-Romantic, solidly in the English pastoral tradition, and his text setting relatively conventional, but the cycle is a lovely, lyrical, entirely successful exemplar of that tradition. Serenade, written about five years after Dies Natalis, demonstrates by contrast the daring individuality of Britten's handling of texts and the rich originality of his melodic gift. The sound of Harmonia Mundi's SACD is immaculate and detailed, with a gripping sense of presence.

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