Listening to Britten – O the sight entrancing

Dublin from Phoenix Park (1797) by William Ashford. Photo (c) Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries

O the sight entrancing (Planxty Sudley) (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 4 no.10 (Moore’s Irish Melodies)) – folksong arrangement for high voice and piano (1957, Britten aged 43)

Dedication Anthony Gishford – director of Boosey & Hawkes
Text Thomas Moore
Language English
Duration 2′

Audio clip (with thanks to Hyperion)

O the sight entrancing (Regina Nathan (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano))

Background and Critical Reception

This is the tenth and final folksong from Britten’s ‘Irish book’ – all Thomas Moore melodies set for high voice and piano (ostensibly Pears and Britten).

Eric Roseberry allocates this to the ‘war-song genre’, and talks of how ‘the lively fanfare / drum-inspired O the sight entrancing is a tense ostinato piece that brilliantly captures the mood of patriots in pre-battle-array…suggestive of the baroque martial genre (and Britten’s own keyboard realisation of it) in Purcell and Handel.’


A crisp call to attention from the piano sets this song firmly in C major, and begins a relatively conventional setting from Britten.

It is quite a bracing song but feels a lot older than others in the same set, Britten content to keep to pure harmonies and a piano part that fills in the gaps with strident melody.

Overall in the fourth book of folksongs I have found the slower and quieter numbers to be the more engaging, and despite the bluster of this song I’m afraid it passed me by somewhat.

Recordings used

Philip Langridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)
Regina Nathan (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Hyperion)

Philip Langridge sings with typical vigour, and Graham Johnson’s piano part is especially forceful. Malcolm Martineau’s piano sound has a harsher recording and Regina Nathan’s upper range has more abandon, narrowly missing some of the notes as a result.


Philip Langridge and Graham Johnson can be heard here, seemingly the only version of Britten’s arrangement on Spotify.

Also written in 1957: Walter Piston – Viola Concerto

Next up: Early one morning

This entry was posted in Folksong arrangements, Listening to Britten, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s