Unlike Grainger and Vaughan Williams, Britten didn’t collect folksongs for any ethno-musical goals, but rather out of nostalgia for his homeland. The first of his seven collections was put together in 1941, while in exile in the United States; the others followed until 1976, even taking in Ireland and France.
Focusing essentially upon the British songs (with a handful of Irish ones, too, such as the inexhaustible ‘Last Rose of Summer’), Steve Davislim offers a selection tinged with melancholy. More than the extroverted rusticity of ‘The Foggy, Foggy Dew’ or ‘The Plough Boy’, it’s the idealised recreation, in almost rosy pastels, of country life that nuances the rounded voice of the Australian tenor. Sometimes the objection is made that the folksongs’ simplicity fades too much in the composer’s sophisticated art song treatment. But isn’t that precisely the effect that Britten was seeking in clothing these simple tunes with a subtle accompaniment, here gloried in by Simone Young?