Any tenor who sings Britten is inevitably going to invoke a comparison with Peter Pears, for whom this music was written. While Pears' musicality was impeccable and his interpretations incisive, his timbre could be thin and reedy. Daniel Norman stands up well in comparison; his voice is notable for its unmannered freshness and naturalness. It's bright and clear, and while it's a medium-sized instrument, he's capable of deploying it with full-throated strength as well as in the quietest near-whisper. His exceptionally pure and focused vowels and his beautifully calibrated vibrato are special pleasures. Only at the very lowest notes of some of the songs does his voice lose some substance. Norman's interpretation of these three cycles and miscellaneous songs is understated but fully expressive. Pianist Christopher Gould provides a sensitive and nuanced accompaniment. He and Norman have been collaborating since 1996, so it's not surprising that they are so well coordinated in their phrasing and interpretation.
The recital offers an attractive selection of songs, dating from the 1953 Winter Words, based on texts by Thomas Hardy, to the 1975 Burns Songs. Both the vocal lines and accompaniments are infinitely inventive and Britten never settles for the most predictable path, but keeps listeners on their toes. He may lead through thickets of bitonality and dissonance, but his instincts are sure, guided by an inarguable musical logic and sense of inevitability. Especially in the hands of interpreters as skilled as these, the songs make for compelling musical experiences. BIS' sound is ideal, immediate, and intimate. The album should appeal to Britten fans and anyone excited by a clarion tenor voice.