Benjamin Britten

William Dart
New Zealand Herald 'Weekend' (NZ)
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Delightful and rewarding stroll down memory lane

Verdict: Our Australian cousins give us a lesson in taking our heritage seriously.

The redoubtable Dame Nellie Melba may have lent her name to a peach dessert and very, very crisp toast, but I would imagine she would be much prouder to be associated with the sterling work of the Melba Foundation. This is an organisation which, with the welcome leg-up of a $5 million ($6.3 million) government grant, is catching the best of Australia’s singers and other musicians on CD.

Two recent and handsomely packaged Melba releases show that faith and funding have been amply rewarded. A collection of Benjamin Britten’s Folksong Arrangements, sung by tenor Steve Davislim, has…Simone Young putting down her baton to provide piano accompaniments.

These rather arty takes on the simplest of folk ballads were spoofed in their time by Dudley Moore, but decades on, they are lovely period pieces, with mellow joys of their own. The credit here must go to Davislim’s unerringly warm tenor, from his elegant foray through ‘Salley Gardens’ to his closing salute to summer’s final rose.

The sequence of the songs brings special pleasures, especially when, after the chiming reveries of ‘The Ash Grove’ we are dashed back to earth and 17th-century politics with the astringent ‘Oliver Cromwell’. An arrangement of ‘Early One Morning’ has a prettiness that deserves to come back into vogue.