The guitar music of eminent 20th-century British composer Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) comprises three works, all of them written with the great guitarist Julian Bream in mind. Two of these are sets of songs for high voice, for which Britten’s vocal model was of course the famous English tenor – and Britten’s long-time personal and professional partner – Peter Pears.
The “Songs from the Chinese”, a cycle of six songs on poems translated from the original Chinese by Arthur Waley (1889–1966), were written in 1957 and premiered the following year by the duo of Pears and Bream. By the late 50s Bream was a lutenist and guitarist of great renown and had accompanied Pears in works by Dowland and other early music of the British Isles, concerts that inspired Britten to write for the duo some music of his own. His cycle naturally invited comparison with another great set of songs from the Chinese, Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde”, and the reception at the time was favourable: “as a whole, they make a statement about life (and particularly the transience of youth and beauty) as poignant and personal as Mahler’s” (critic Jeremy Noble in Tempo,1959).
The sixth instalment of Britten’s lifelong project of folksong arrangements was published in November of 1961 in a second wave along with volumes four and five, which followed some 12 years after the first three volumes were issued in the 1940s. Volume Six contains six English folksongs and is the only one of the sets that he scored for voice and guitar. These folksong arrangements are as much a product of Britten’s admiration for Bream as are the “Songs from the Chinese”. In fact, when Pears and Bream premiered Britten’s song cycle at the Aldeburgh Festival (17 June 1958), they performed three of these folksongs on the same concert.
Britten wrote the guitar solo “Nocturnal” after John Dowland in 1963 for Bream, who premiered it the following year (12 June 1964). The nine movements of the work are a “variations & theme”, progressing opposite to the usual order of a theme and variations. The model, “Come, Heavy Sleep” from the First Book of Songs by John Dowland (1563–1626), is only revealed at the end, with the variations leading up to it hinting at the song with treatments of various thematic fragments.
Marcello Nardis and Duilio Meucci complete this album with three additional works by Dowland including the original “Come, Heavy Sleep” on which Britten based his Nocturnal, another well-known song, “Flow my tears”, and the lute solo “A Dream”.
· Recorded February 2020 in Portici (Naples), Italy
· Booklet contains information about Benjamin Britten and biographies of the artists
· This CD contains the complete works for voice and guitar by Benjamin Britten, the most important and successful English composer of the 20-th century.
· “Songs from the Chinese Op.58” deals with the aging process, where one is thrown from melancholy to the restlessness that turns up in “Dance song”, a wild dance where the unicorn symbolizes lost innocence, one of Britten's favorite themes.
· Folksong Arrangements treats traditional themes such as the sailor, love, and moral themes, as in “The Shooting of his Dear”, where a young man shoots his sweetheart by accident during the hunt after mistaking her for a swan.
· The “Nocturnal Op.70” is one of the guitar literature's most remarkable works. The piece reflects the various stages of insomnia, where the theme of John Dowland, “Come heavy sleep” suggests how sleep, or death, finally enters as a liberator.
· The original songs by John Dowland, which were the inspiration for Britten, are also included in the program.
· Marcello Nardis is a remarkable Italian singer, who performed in Teatro alla Scala, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, New National Theatre – Tokyo, and Carnegie Hall.
Duilio Meucci is one of the foremost guitar players of Italy.