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BRITTEN: Orchestral Song-Cycles Vol 1

Our Hunting Fathers, Op. 8
Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano (recorded 1990)

Les Illuminations, Op. 18

4 Chansons Francaises, Op. posth.
Nuits de Juin; Sagesse; L'Enface; Chanson d'Automne
Felicity Lott, soprano (recorded 1994)

English Chamber Orchestra/Steuart Bedford

Naxos 8.557206 [63 mins]

Here is one of the most important Naxos/Collins rescues. Although Naxos places the well known Les Illuminations as their sales pitch I have preferred to list these song cycles chronologically by dates of composition as well as recordings.

It is Our Hunting Fathers, which makes this an essential purchase; unwelcomed in 1936, neglected since then though one of Britten's most strikingly original works. To a text devised by W H Auden, including two of his own poems, it is a cycle 'ostensibly about man's relations with animals but, by extension, also about man's relationship with man' (Lloyd Moore).

Once heard, Rats Away! and Dance of Death (Ravenscroft listing hunting dogs, Britten's setting ending with German & Jew to make his inescapable point) you will never forget their spine chilling effect, heralding the opera composer to come. No-one could follow the words (high virtuosic soprano) without texts in front of you, and Naxos provides them all here in clear print.

Felicity Lott has always specialised in French song and is ideally cast for these two cycles, the 1928 Chansons Francaises never heard during Britten's lifetime.

Recordings, transfers and documentation (with French texts translated) impeccable; good to see it is announced as "Volume 1" of the Song-Cycles. At Naxos price, this historic re-release will hopefully spread familiarity with the still unduly neglected Our Hunting Fathers.

Our Hunting Fathers is also available on EMI Classics CDC5568712 (Bostridge/ Daniel Harding)

© Peter Grahame Woolf