Britten on Record: Schubert: Die Sterne D939; Nachtviolen D752; Auflösung D807 (BBC Legends: Britten The Performer)
Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano)
Live recording: Aldeburgh Festival – Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, 15 June 1958
Die Sterne D939
Clips from the performance can be heard at the All Music website.
Background and Critical Reception
It is such a shame that the Britten the performer series is not readily available from the BBC at the moment, for it was something of a revelation when released in the late 1990s. Happily second-hand discs can be found by looking on the internet, but it was a shortcoming of the centenary year that nobody was able to make them publicly available again.
One of the benefits of the series are its booklets, beautifully illustrated and annotated. In this one, the pianist Roger Vignoles talks about Britten’s abilities as a pianist, but also notes how Pears was in the form of his life at the time these Schubert songs were recorded.
‘Pears and Britten evoke the nocturnal intimacy of Nachtviolen and Die Sterne‘, he writes, ‘and bring a breathless, febrile intensity to the cosmic imagery of Auflösung‘.
A relatively sombre selection with which to begin their recital. Britten and Pears begin with Die sterne, a song whose subtleties are beautifully communicated by the partnership. Britten’s shadowing of the tenor’s melody at the end of a line is sublime, his linking of the verses literally keeping the vocal style going.
The second song is quite introverted, Britten inhabiting that unusually timeless world of later Schubert with great sensitivity . Pears is thoughtful too, and his higher register is faultless, despite a slowing in tempo.
Pears himself is at his peak in these songs, as Vignoles says, able to float his voice with mellifluous tone. Auflösung, the final song, finds a deeper intensity, Britten’s piano playing seemingly taking us to the water’s edge, but Pears finding an impressive depth at the climax.
Also recorded in 1958: Beethoven – Mass in C, Op.86 (Jennifer Vyvyan (soprano), Monica Sinclair (contralto), Richard Lewis (tenor), Marian Norakowski (bass), Beecham Choral Society, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Thomas Beecham (EMI)
Next up: Schumann – Liederkreis, Op.39