Listening to Britten – Voici le printemps


Les Andelys by Maurice de Vlaminck. ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2013. Image credit: Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

Voici le printemps (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 2 no.2 (France)) – folksong arrangement for high or medium voice and piano (December 1942, Britten aged 29)

Dedication Arnold and Humphrey Gyde
Text Traditional
Language French
Duration 2′

Audio clip (with thanks to Hyperion) Voici le printemps (Lorna Anderson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano))

Background and Critical Reception

This is the second of Britten’s eight French folksong settings, the second volume he completed. This is the only volume considered a self-enclosed set, for the composer applied page numbers and appropriate markings to the music. Sophie Wyss performed them as such in 1943 and 1944 it would seem, although this song was the only one omitted when she performed the French settings at the Wigmore Hall in November 1944.

In his chapter on the folksongs for the Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten, Eric Roseberry highlights this song as ‘a gem of simple artifice’, with ‘harmonic subtlety and originality’.

Thoughts

Voici le printemps is an attractive and graceful song, fitting nearly into the mezzo or lower soprano range, with a nice airiness that hints at either Fauré or Schubert. It is also quite elusive harmonically, which tilts it more towards Fauré, as the piano is unable to fully settle.

That said, it is one of the more emotionally restful of the group of French settings, which do tend towards a darker colour in Britten’s folksong output.

Recordings used

Sophie Wyss (soprano), Benjamin Britten (piano) (Decca)
Felicity Lott (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Bengt Forsberg (Deutsche Grammophon)
Lorna Anderson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Hyperion)
Susan Gritton (soprano), Iain Burnside (piano) (Signum)

What a pleasure to be able to hear Sophie Wyss in the repertoire that was arranged with her in mind, singing with a nice airy tone and subtle vibrato, while Britten accompanies with typically stylish figurations. Of the four more modern versions Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson are the most satisfying, but in truth any of their contemporaries are good too.

Spotify

Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg are here, while Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson are here, part of Graham Johnson’s outstanding collection of Britten folksong arrangements.

Also written in 1942: Bing Crosby – White Christmas

Next up: Fileuse

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