Britten on Record: Fauré: La bonne chanson, Op. 61 (BBC Legends: Britten The Performer)
Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano)
Live recording: Aldeburgh Festival – Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, 15 June 1958
1 Une sainte en son auréole
2 Puisque l’aube grandit
3 La lune blanche luit dans les bois
4 J’allais par des chemins perfides
5 J’ai presque peur, en vérité
6 Avant que tu ne t’en ailles
7 Donc, ce sera par un clair jour d’été
8 N’est-ce pas?
9 L’hiver a cessé
Clips from the performance can be heard at the All Music website.
Background and Critical Reception
This is the only available recording of Britten, and indeed Pears, performing the music of Fauré. It is something of a collector’s item, though as Roger Vignoles notes in his booklet text for the release, ‘If the exceptional quality of the performance of (Schumann’s) Liederkreis could have been deduced from their recordings of Dichterliebe and the Schubert cycles, Pears’ and Britten’s La Bonne Chanson is nothing short of a revelation’.
An experienced pianist in Fauré songs, Vignoles qualifies his statement. ‘It is a notoriously difficult work to bring off in performance…the piano part is fiendishly difficultm not just because of Fauré’s deliberately wayward chromaticism , or because the continuously uniform textures can become turgid, but also because the nature of the songs denies even the satisfaction of their sounding difficult.’
For Vignoles, ‘Britten conquers it with supreme mastery, employing a limpid touch and at times an almost complete absence of pedal’.
As Vignoles says, Fauré’s music is elusive when it comes to securing the right performance, his subtleties very easy to dismiss or exaggerate. Britten and Pears, however, get it just right, and in their restraint conjure a performance of uncommon intensity, one where pianist and tenor are clearly on the same wavelength.
By way of examples, Pears’ voice hangs beautifully in the air at the end of La lune blanche luit dans les bois, just one of many instances of his remarkable vocal control. The tenor’s timbre feels just right for Fauré, rich but also delicately applied. The serene Une sainte en son aureole is a rather special start to the cycle, while Avant que tu ne t’en ailles is appropriately mysterious.
The limpid touch of which Vignoles speaks on Britten’s part can be found at the start of N’est-ce pas?, where his control commands rapt attention from the audience, falling under the spell of the composer’s response to Paul Verlaine’s poetry.
Also recorded in 1958: Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto no.1 in B flat minor, Op.23 (Van Cliburn (piano), RCA Symphony (RCA)
Next up: Schubert: 8 Lieder