Benjamin Britten

Francois Lesueur
Forum Opéra (France)

Sighs in an English Garden

Benjamin Britten’s cosmopolitan nature aroused his life-long interest in music from all periods, from all genres and from all cultures. Along side his stage works, he demonstrated attachment to songs from different regions and countries that he brought together in folksong collections and that occupied him until his death. It is from this imposing body of work that the Australian tenor Steve Davislim —who came to prominence in Paris in 2002 singing the title role in Weber’s Oberon, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner—and the pianist/conductor Simone Young drew their selection for the present recital.

The first folksong arrangements by Britten date from the 1940s, at a time when his inspiration was in crisis. Different from Bartók, Britten at heart remained faithful to the original melody, allowing his genius to be expressed in the piano accompaniment. Although the composer never wished to belong to the Folksong Society (whose academic character and rigidity drove him away), he never ceased, as this recording demonstrates, to be passionate about this not exclusively British inheritance. One remembers the recording of French popular song by Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg on DG from 2000. The dynamic, convincing playing of Simone Young highlights the nuanced singing of Steve Davislim. His rounded and well-placed voice, his care over pronunciation and the sensibility of his approach sketches the contrasting themes contained in these songs.   

Starting with the celebrated poem by Yeats ‘The Salley Gardens’ with its poignant inspiration, the singer then renders very truly ‘The Plough Boy’, a tune by Shield which recounts the dream of social advancement of the simple farm boy; the artist paints with a grace tinged with bitterness the pathetic expression of desperate love in ‘O Waly, Waly’; in ‘The Ash Grove’ the singer/narrator pours out his feelings about impossible love and the sadness of solitude, over a jagged piano part, underlined by remarkable dissonances …