Benjamin Britten

John T Hughes
International Record Review (UK)

Folk-song arrangements by Britten find two Australian artists melding their talents, with Simone Young, more often encountered as a conductor, turning to the piano to present 24 of them with the tenor Steve Davislim. In his note, David Pear writes that Britten’s role ‘was to massage the original folksongs into a more finished and aesthetically pleasing whole.’ Did Britten succeed or did he sometimes go too far, destroying the originals’ simplicity and fragility, as if adding to a simple rural cottage to turn it into a ‘desirable’ modern residence? I have long felt that one of the worst accompaniments is that for ‘The Ash Grove’, which clashes harmonically with the sung tune and does not suit the mood of the song, which Davislim sings gently and sweetly. Young’s fingers flexibly deliver her contrasting notes. Even worse is the arrangement of ‘The Last Rose of Summer’. ‘The Miller of Dee’ concerns ‘a jolly miller’, but it is so slow and serious here (Britten or Davislim and Young?) that moroseness has overcome him. ‘The Foggy, Foggy Dew’, quite often included in live recitals, has a fitting piano part and is suggestively sung and played, the tempo neatly varied. Davislim approaches the songs with suitable colours and nuances: note the variations in shading in ‘Ca’ the yowes’, for example. His reverent responsiveness to Dibdin’s ‘Tom Bowling’ shows that one can bring something to the fine song with needing Walter Widdop’s grander tones. ‘The Brisk Young Widow’ is given a pleasing friskiness. Indeed, the two performers, applying much thought to their interpretations, provide many pleasures, not least that Davislim does not sound like Peter Pears. The recording has just too much space for these songs, ‘The Ministrel Boy’ being particularly hollow, but both singer and pianist are heard easily: nothing clouds Davislim’s clear enunciation. Reduce the volume for more intimacy (Melba MR301120). At the same time, a CD of Schubert’s Winterreise sung by Davislim with Anthony Romaniuk at the piano, has been issued on Melba MR301119.