"For all his rootedness in the east Suffolk landscape, Britten’s sensibility for ‘exotic’ sounds (whether musical or linguistical) helped carry his work in directions rarely explored by other English composers. His settings of German, French and Italian poetry are both unmistakeably Britten and, more often then not, idiomatic in their treatment of foreign words. That’s certainly the impression left by this outstanding recital. Listen, for example, to Mark Padmore’s haunting delivery of ‘Um Mitternacht’ or Susan Gritton’s sinuous exposition of “Des Linien des Lebens’. The superior qualityof the music-making here matches that of the music itself. A great album." *****
Classic FM Magazine - September 2008
"...The singing and the playing are superb, the presentation is second to none and the programme notes are ideal. All in all, this is a fine production."
MusicWeb International - August 2008
Performance ***** - Recording *****
"What an inspired idea not only to bring together Britten’s mature foreign language songs, but also to have the programme shared by two of Britain’s keenest and brightest singers. I had a few very small reservations to begin with over Mark Padmore’s artfulness and occasional small linguistic slip in the Michelangelo Sonnets; once heard, Anthony Rolfe Johnson’s delivery of Sonnet 30 can never be forgotten, and he manages the climatic phrase with its flip over to a top B without having to adjust the text as Padmore does. Susan Gritton, too, projects the Russian text of the Pushkin settings less urgently than their original interpreter Galina Vishnevskaya, but captures something of the Russian soprano’s most luminous, hallowed tone and remains purer under pressure.
The second half of the recital, though, is flawless music-making of the first order. Britten’s French folksong settings, like his Tom Moore Irish sequence, tend to be overshadowed by the English songs, but the piano parts, delicately rendered by Iain Burnside if without quite Britten the pianist’s ethereal light, are full of unselfconscious individuality. Gritton and Burnside share the honours here, and it’s impossible to choose between the Christmas song and ’Il est quelqu’un sur terre’ for seemingly artless simplicity. The Hölderlin settings, prefaced by a rare Goethe number first performed in 1992, are Britten at his most essential, and Gritton makes the best possible case for a soprano interpretation. So delight and spiritual depths go hand in hand. The recital is vividly recorded, the voices well forward though, not at the expense of the piano part, and handsomely presented, with an informative essay by John Evans."
BBC Music Magazine - Proms (July) Issue 2008
"Under the title Britten Abroad, this beautifully conceived and vividly performed collection brings together all the songs Benjamin Britten composed to non-English texts. It’s dominated by three of the less well-known song cycles. The Michelangelo Sonnets from 1940 was Britten’s first work explicitly composed for Peter Pears and contains some of the most passionately personal music he ever produced; the Hölderlin Fragments were also written for the tenor, in 1958, while the Pushkin settings of The Poet’s Echo date from 1965 and were dedicated to the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya and her husband Mstislav Rostropovich. Alongside those are some French folksong arrangements, and Britten’s only Goethe setting, the weirdly meditative Um Mitternacht, from 1960. Tenor Mark Padmore takes the Michelangelo cycle by the throat, and wrings out of it a powerfully eloquent performance, and he’s equally persuasive in the Hölderlin settings, while soprano Susan Gritton does not attempt the histrionics that Vishnevskaya brought to the Pushkin songs, but invests them instead with genuinely credible dramatic intensity. Iain Burnside is a model accompanist. An outstanding disc." *****
THe Guardian - 30 May 2008
"Britten was a compulsive songwriter – Italian, Russian, German and French poetry benefited from his lyrical gift. The tenor Padmore is easy over the horn-blown heights on Veggio co’bei. Gritton is more shrill and rather overdoes the Pushkin poems The Poet’s Echo, although she shows agonised restraint in the paranoid last. They share the German and French, Padmore summoning Goethe’s morose midnight, Gritton Hoelderlin’s youth, both alternating the amusing Gallic folksongs. Gritton all but steals the album with the haunting Il est Quelqu’un. Burnside gives witty impressions of a spinning wheel, insomniac’s clock and Messiaen-like nightingale at the keys." ***
The Times - 24 May 2008
"This BBC disc reveals Britten’s remarkable ability to enter wholly into the subtleties of many different languages. Mark Padmore’s singing of the Michaelangelo Sonnets has all the grace of the young Pears without his mannerisms, and Susan Gritton gives a fluent account of the Pushkin cycle The Poet’s Echo. She is again impressive in the rarely heard Hölderlin Fragments and both singers enjoy the French folksong arrangements. Iain Burnside is a tower of strength throughout."
The Sunday Telegraph - 18 May 2008
"This ingenious programme brings together all of Britten’s settings of foreign-language texts for voice and piano. It is dominated by three major cycles: the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, the Pushkin-based Poet’s Echo and the Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente. But is interleaved with arrangements of French folksongs and a posthumously rediscovered Goethe setting from 1960.
With the ever-inventive Iain Burnside at the piano, revelling in Britten’s keyboard felicities, the vocal honours are shared evenly by soprano and tenor. Mark Padmore is commanding in the Italianate, almost bel canto style of the Michelangelo sonnets, and Susan Gritton’s rich-hued timbre and linguistic mastery reap rewards in the Russian and German cycles."
The Daily Telegraph - 17 May 2008
"Different though they are, putting Britten’s three big foreign-language song cycles with piano on a single disc makes obvious sense. The tenor Mark Padmore opens with an impassioned, vibrantly coloured performance of the earliest of them, the 1940 Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, in which Britten’s musical language and emotions seem set free. He rightly takes a more reflective approach in the Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente (1958), songs in which the issues of mortality, lost innocence and self-doubt are addressed. The Pushkin settings of The Poet’s Echo (1965) demand dramatic, intense colours, and the soprano Susan Gritton duly supplies them. Between cycles, eight beguilingly sung arrangements of French folk songs are shared by the two singers. Throughout, the pianist Iain Burnside traverses this vast, impressive terrain with stylish ease."
The Sunday Times - 4 May 2008
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