Roderick Williams / Iain Burnside

Britten: Songs and Proverbs of William Blake; Tit for Tat; Folk-songs

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Naxos continues its ambitious English Song Series with a 22nd installment, two song cycles and a collection of folk song arrangements by Britten performed by baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Iain Burnside. Williams is best known as a Mozart singer, but he has worked extensively with contemporary composers. He has a pure, transparent tone with an open, appealing timbre. He is capable of real power and volume, and he brings a limber athleticism to the songs. In the tradition of the best Britten singers, his interpretations are sculpturally nuanced and reflect a fine understanding of the interplay between the music and texts. He doesn't entirely avoid the preciousness that can bedevil Britten singers, and his lack of consistency with vowel placement can be a distraction; he falls prey to the tendency common to some British singers to bend vowels, particularly "o," so that "low" becomes "le-ow," and doesn't quite rhyme with "go" in the following line of verse.

Britten wrote Tit for Tat, a setting of five poems by Walter de la Mare, between the ages of 13 and 17, so it is not surprisingly less probing in the depths of its exploration of the texts than his mature pieces, but it is amazingly assured and sophisticated to be the work of a teenager. He wrote Songs and Proverbs of William Blake for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in 1965. Among its songs are some of his most progressive incursions into modernism, which he integrates skillfully with his ties to tonal art song; "Proverb I" and "London" are especially impressive examples. The folk songs are delightfully lyrical, lovely, and simple without being simplistic. The accompaniment for The Songs and Proverbs is tricky to pull off convincingly, but Burnside makes musical sense of it and he plays the folk songs with affecting emotional directness. Naxos' sound is clear, clean, lively, and warmly ambient, with an excellent sense of presence

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, Op. 74
1 1:18
2 2:21
3 0:38
4 2:18
5 0:49
6 4:33
7 0:45
8 1:54
9 0:50
10 1:55
11 1:40
12 3:11
13 0:48
14 3:05
Tit for Tat
15 2:31
16 1:19
17 1:31
18 1:36
19 1:42
20 1:44
21 2:03
22 4:29
23 3:18
24 0:44
25 2:24
26 2:29
27 1:40
28 2:44
29 4:10
blue highlight denotes track pick