Peter Pears

Tenor

Peter Pears

Born in Farnham in 1910, Pears was educated at Lancing College, Keble College and the Royal College of Music. Whilst working with the BBC Singers in the mid-1930s he met Benjamin Britten, who would become his lifelong partner: the pair initially collaborated as lieder recitalists, emigrating to America together conscientious objectors shortly before hostilities broke out in 1939.

Although he was a renowned interpreter of Bach and Schubert, Pears is perhaps best remembered as Britten's muse: Britten wrote many of his song-cycles for his distinctive, rather dry-sounding tenor, and almost all of his operas contain a role written especially for him. Works written with Pears in mind include the War Requiem, Serenade, Nocturne and Canticles and the operas Albert Herring, The Turn of the Screw, Billy Budd, Death in Venice, and - most famously - Peter Grimes.

Pears was made a CBE in 1955 and was knighted two decades later. He died in 1986 and is buried next to Britten in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul's, Aldeburgh.

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Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex

Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex

and works by Strauss and Kodály


Kodály:

Háry János Suite

Strauss, R:

Elektra (highlights)

Stravinsky:

Oedipus Rex

Peter Pears (Oedipus), Kerstin Meyer (Jocasta), Donald McIntyre (Creon), Benjamin Luxon (Messenger), Alec McCowen (narrator)


Both Strauss’s Elektra and Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex trace their lineages back to Sophocles, the Greek dramatist who lived in the fourth century BC. Both are stories of the avenging of a royal father’s murder, either by surviving family members (Elektra), or by Fate or the gods themselves (Oedipus Rex).

Even from an early age, Georg Solti knew that his greatest ambitions lay in the opera house. ‘From a purely musical point of view, working closely with singers teaches you to make music in a way that breathes – even in purely instrumental music,’ Solti once remarked. In his youth, Solti assisted Bruno Walter, Issay Dobrowen, Fritz Busch and Erich Kleiber. In Salzburg, in 1937, he was rehearsal pianist for Arturo Toscanini. So, by the time he came to conducting his first opera (Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro) at age 26, he knew the ropes, so to speak. According to him, to ‘play rhythmically but softly, so that the singers always feel the pulse but need not tire their voices’ was a crucial factor in being a repetiteur. He continued, ‘don’t play all the notes, but play all the essential notes; when you are coaching an individual singer in a role, take the lead, but when you are playing for a staging or ensemble rehearsal, follow – follow for dear life! I was able to follow the worst singer to hell and back. I could have followed a bird’s chirping.’

Exclusively a Decca recording artist (apart from a few recordings made for Deutsche Grammophon, RCA and CBS by arrangement with Decca), he made more than 250 recordings for the company over a 50-year period: 1947–1997, taking in music from Bach to Tippett. The three excerpts from Elektra (amounting to nearly half the complete opera) are particularly fascinating as this was an opera Solti conducted throughout his career and which he later recorded in its entirety in Vienna in the 1960s with the incomparable Birgit Nilsson in the title-role. Even in this group of three scenes all the essential Solti characteristics are in evidence: tremendous rhythmic drive and an acute ear for orchestral colour and detail.

“the dark sobriety and essentially lyric qualities of Stravinsky’s “opera-oratorio” are freshly and memorably conveyed in this recording” Gramophone Magazine, February 1978 (Stravinsky)

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Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream


Alfred Deller (Oberon), Jennifer Vyvyan (Tytania), Leonide Massine II (Puck), Kevin Platts (Cobweb), Robert McCutcheon (Mustardseed), Barry Ferguson (Moth), Michael Bauer (Peaseblossom), George Maran (Lysander), Thomas Hemsley (Demetrius), Marjorie Thomas (Hermia), April Cantelo (Helena), Forbes Robinson (Theseus), Johanna Peters (Hippolyta), Owen Brannigan (Bottom), Norman Lumsden (Quince), Peter Pears (Flute), David Kelly (Snug), Edward Byles (Snout), Joseph Ward (Starveling)

English Opera Group Orchestra, Benjamin Britten

World premiere, recorded in the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, 11 June 1960 First ever release.

At first glance, Britten’s discography of his own operas leaves little to be desired. His recorded legacy covers practically his entire output in recordings under his own direction, with his favourite artists, produced to still-legendary standards. And yet, as magnificent as the official recordings are, many do not feature the singers who created important roles; and sometimes even when the interpretations do come from the source the published versions are from a few crucial years downstream. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is no exception. It was composed at breakneck speed for the reopening in 1960 of Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall, a tiny theatre by operatic standards, seating just over 300. It would soon move to the rather more capacious Covent Garden (and for that matter within the following year to Hamburg, Zurich, Berlin, Pforzheim, Milan, Vancouver, Gothenburg, Edinburgh, Schwetzingen and Tokyo) – finally reaching a commercial recording in 1966 under very different circumstances from those in which it was created. Perhaps the greatest single asset of the 1960 recording, though, is the chance to hear Alfred Deller’s very earliest performance as Oberon. Deller’s inclusion in the cast was one of Britten’s most original inspirations: nowadays counter-tenor roles are an essential part of the operatic palette in old and new music alike and gifted singers to sing them are plentiful, but just a few decades ago a counter-tenor was an exotic beast indeed. Sir Michael Tippett wrote of first hearing Deller’s voice: ‘In that moment the centuries rolled back’. For us, half a century and more already rolls back when we hear Deller in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Deller’s voice is ironically now a historical phenomenon in itself.

Britten’s own interpretation of the opera would broaden over the years. Here the ink on the score is barely dry and some passages are unforgettably urgent: Oberon and Tytania’s opening duet has a compelling sweep, and the Act II quarrel of the lovers has an extra tinge of danger. The glorious choruses which end the second and third acts would certainly be given more time in later performances, but not always either to their benefit or to the advantage of the whole: ‘On the ground, sleep sound’ is all the more poignant if it, as here, never becomes static, and Puck’s epilogue can sound a little tacked-on if ‘Now until the break of day’ is allowed to wallow. Fortunately, there is no need to choose. We are all the richer for having two such distinct approaches to the opera in its early history at our disposal and since they both come direct from the composer himself, perhaps the not always helpful concept of a ‘definitive recording’ can usefully be called into question.

“The cast play as an ensemble with remarkable detail. Alfred Deller, especially, is in excellent voice as Oberon...though the playing is not immaculate, Britten leads his forces with tremendous rhythmic verve – even more than on the Decca recording.” Gramophone Magazine, November 2016

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Puccini: Turandot

Puccini: Turandot


Joan Sutherland (Turandot), Luciano Pavarotti (Calaf), Montserrat Caballé (Liù), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Timur), Tom Krause (Ping), Pier Francesco Poli (Pang), Piero De Palma (Pong), Peter Pears (L'imperatore Altoum), Sabin Markov (Un mandarino)

London Philharmonic Orchestra, John Alldis Choir, Zubin Mehta

“Sutherland gives an intensely appealing interpretation, while Pavarotti gives a performance equally imaginative. Mehta directs a gloriously rich and dramatic performance. Still the best-sounding Turandot on CD.” Penguin Guide

“this recording...works for me on every level. Of course you get Pavarotti singing Nessun dorma at his lyrical best, but more importantly than that, Montserrat Caballé sings Liù, showing off her famed pianissimo to great effect at the end of Signore, ascolta. Finally, as a bonus bit of luxury casting, Peter Pears takes the small role of Turandot's father, Emperor Altoum.” James Longstaffe, Presto Classical, July 2014

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Britten: War Requiem, Op. 66

Britten: War Requiem, Op. 66

world premiere recording

recorded live at Coventry Cathedral, May 1962


Heather Harper (soprano), Peter Pears (tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Melos Ensemble, Coventry Festival Choir, Boys of Holy Trinity, Leamington and Holy Trinity, Stratford, Meredith Davies (CBSO), Benjamin Britten (Melos)

This performance is the World Premiere of the Britten War Requiem to mark the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral.

Hearing History

‘The first performance created an atmosphere of such intensity that by the end I was completely undone; I did not know where to hide my face,’ Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau wrote in his autobiography of the War Requiem premiere. ‘Dead friends and past suffering arose in my mind.’ Fischer-Dieskau was a somewhat gruff, paternalistic character of whom Britten would grow wary, but he perfectly captured the emotional intensity of the occasion. Nor was he exaggerating: a few days after the first performance on 30 May Britten wrote to a friend about how Peter Pears had to help Fischer-Dieskau from his seat at the concert’s end. By the time of this letter the ripples from the premiere had travelled far and the profound impact of the work was quickly acknowledged in reviews and correspondence. Yet even Britten was caught unawares by the public resonances of the piece and the emotional responses it inspired.

The commissioners gave Britten a remarkably broad brief. ‘The new work they seek could be full length or a substantial 30/40 minutes one: its libretto could be sacred or secular.’ Britten opted for both sacred and secular, which gave him the opportunity to undermine the former with the latter. He had been thinking about such a piece for a few years, telling a friend in January 1957, ‘I am just starting a Mass myself, a rather sad 20th century, European, affair.’ Typically Britten’s big compositions were some years in the making. Usually at least the librettist, story or poems were pinned down early on, but in the case of this sad mass, Britten had not yet established the form it would take. By the time he thought of his bold scheme to juxtapose Owen’s bitter take on Judeo-Christian beliefs and the Old Men of church and state who shrouded themselves in these beliefs as they marched young men off to war, Britten was wracked with the sort of uncertainty that governed all his major works. ‘I go on working at the Coventry piece,’ he told director Basil Coleman in 1961, a month or so before finishing it. ‘Sometimes it seems the best ever, more often the worst – but it is always so with me.’

Extracts from the note by Paul Kildea

“Taken from a BBC recording, this single CD preserves the historic first performance in all its messy glory...[Harper] is at her peak, all gleaming beauty and commanding authority; and Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, both in fine voice, match each other in the kind of singing of which history is made.” Gramophone Magazine, December 2013

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Britten Centenary

Britten Centenary


Britten:

Simple Symphony, Op. 4

Rec.1959

I Musici, Felix Ayo

Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Op. 33a

Rec.1958

Royal Opera House Orchestra, Benjamin Britten

Spring Symphony, Op. 44

Jennifer Vyvyan (soprano), Norma Procter (contralto) & Peter Pears (tenor)

Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden & Chorus of Boys from Emanuel School, Wandsworth, London


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The Voice of Peter Pears

The Voice of Peter Pears


Berkeley, L:

How Love Came In

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Bridge:

Love went a-riding

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Britten:

The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Op. 35

Benjamin Britten (piano)

The Plough Boy

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Campion:

Shall I come, sweet love, to thee?

Julian Bream (guitar)

Copland:

Long Time Ago

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Simple Gifts (from Old American Songs, Set I)

Benjamin Britten (piano)

I Bought me a Cat

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Dowland:

I saw my Lady weepe

Julian Bream (guitar)

What if I never speed?

Julian Bream (guitar)

Ford, T:

Faire, sweet, cruell

Julian Bream (guitar)

Grainger:

Six Dukes Went a-Fishin'

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Ireland:

I Have Twelve Oxen

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Moeran:

In youth is pleasure

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Morley:

It was a lover and his lass

Julian Bream (guitar)

Rosseter:

What then is love but mourning?

Julian Bream (guitar)

Schubert:

Im Frühling, D882

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Auf der Bruck, D853

Benjamin Britten (piano)

An die Laute D905

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Die Taubenpost, D965A (D957 No. 14)

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Warlock:

Yarmouth Fair

Benjamin Britten (piano)


Peter Pears (tenor)

“these early recordings show the delight within Pears's and Britten's responses to Schubert and to English song.” BBC Music Magazine, September 2013 ****

“The recordings reissued on this release date from the years between 1947 and 1960, at a time when the mannerisms which unfortunately sometimes marred Pears’s later recordings were not so evident...These recordings are all available elsewhere in various compilations of Pears’ art, but it is valuable to have them gathered on this very reasonably priced disc.” MusicWeb International, 19th June 2013

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Benjamin Britten conducts Mozart & Britten

Benjamin Britten conducts Mozart & Britten

Fairfield Halls, Croydon, London, 20th December 1964


Britten:

Nocturne, Op. 60 for tenor, obbligato instruments and strings

Peter Pears (tenor)

Mozart:

Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550


‘The point of Britten’s conducting was never how he looked when doing it; instead it was about the sheer musicality he brought to the task…’

(Paul Kildea). The revelatory films presented on this DVD feature Britten with his favoured English Chamber Orchestra performing at two very different times of his life, with equal value.

Filmed at Christmas 1964, the main programme of Mozart’s Symphony No.40 and Britten’s own Nocturne shows a man in his prime. The Mozart was a particular favourite of Britten’s and his admiration for it certainly comes across in the performance. This DVD release is a major addition to his discography as the symphony was previously only available on LP.

The footage is modern in its approach and captures Britten close-up in a way that had not been seen before.

In the Nocturne, we see and hear Peter Pears in fresh voice, performing one of many pieces that were written for him, and which Britten and Pears had recorded four years previously. With this DVD we are able to see the closeness between composer and performer. An original review of the piece in Gramophone comments:

‘I cannot think of any settings of English words more imaginative than these of Britten’s.’

The bonus is a colour film from mid-1970, with Britten at home in Snape Maltings for a gala re-opening of the concert hall, performing Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony. The physical difference is clear to see, though all his trademarks are still in evidence and the quality of the music remains undiminished. It is of particular interest as it is the only known recording of this work with Britten.

This is the first release of this material on DVD.

Sound format: Enhanced Mono

DVD format: NTSC

Picture format: 4:3

Running time: 67’

Subtitles: n/a

Menu languages: English

Booklet languages: E/F/G

Region code: 0

Territory Restrictions: None

“from the very opening bars of the Mozart it's evident that the conductor is absolutely in control, delivering wonderfully instinctive melodic phrasing, and inspiring the English Chamber Orchestra to project tremendous rhythmic exhilaration in the Finale. The performance of the Nocturne is no less enthralling, with Peter Pears in excellent voice.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2013 ****

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Britten Rarities

Britten Rarities


Britten:

Voices for Today, Op. 75

First release on CD

Cambridge University Musical Society Chorus & Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, Sir David Willcocks

Songs from "Friday Afternoons", Op. 7

First release on CD

John Hahessy (boy alto) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

The birds

John Hahessy (boy alto) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

Corpus Christi Carol

John Hahessy (boy alto) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

Canticle II - Abraham & Isaac Op. 51

Norma Procter (contralto), Peter Pears (tenor) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

A Charm of Lullabies for mezzo-soprano and pianoforte, Op. 41 (1947)

First release on CD

Pamela Bowden (contralto) & Peter Gellhorn (piano)

Bottom’s Dream (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Sir Geraint Evans (baritone)

L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Ernest Ansermet

The Sword in the Stone

First release on CD

Terence Hanbury White (narrator)

Orchestra, Walter Goehr

Purcell:

Music for a while, Z583

arr. Tippett. First release on CD

Pamela Bowden (contralto) & Peter Gellhorn (piano)

From Rosy Bow'rs (from Don Quixote)

First release on CD

Pamela Bowden (contralto) & Peter Gellhorn (piano)


This collection brings together rarities and surprises from the Decca/Argo Britten discography, a collection notable as much for the infrequency with which much of this music is performed, as it is for the fact that many of these are world-premiere recordings of Britten’s music. The source material itself is extremely rare and virtually every recording represented here is, in its LP/EP format, a collector’s item, largely from the Argo catalogue. The all-vocal program opens with Voices for Today which Britten wrote to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. His devotion to excellent music for children is represented by a collection of songs, including five from Friday Afternoons and sung by the boy alto John Hahessy. It was Hahessy who was chosen over Norma Procter to sing the alto part in Britten’s Canticle II ‘Abraham and Isaac’. The earlier Procter/Pears/Britten version, recorded in 1957 but not released at the time in favour of the Hahessy recording; it is included on this collection. In later years, it was perhaps inevitable that other British singers would be compared with those who created and inspired Britten’s work, notably Ferrier, particularly after her early death. Pamela Bowden was one of those singers: she studied with Ferrier’s teacher, Roy Henderson, in London, and was hailed as the singer’s successor. She is represented by A Charm of Lullabies and it seemed sensible to include the remainder of the music on her original EP – two songs by Purcell – as bonus tracks for this release. A rare spoken-word appearance is made by author (and speaker) T.H. White, who reads an extract from his book The Sword in the Stone to an accompaniment of Britten’s music.

“Britten's songs were written in 1947 for Nancy Evans, and it might be thought that they need rather more mezzo than contralto tone. But Miss Bowden sings them with no apparent strain, and her characterisation of each one is [very] successful … Her voice is not yet as opulent as Kathleen Ferrier's, but her dramatic sense is possibly more developed.” Gramophone Magazine (A Charm of Lullabies, Purcell)

“John Hahessy has a splendid strong tone, almost brassy in forte, and a blessedly unaffected style: none of those cautious hoots and beautifully modulated vowels that are the bane of the English choirboy tradition. What is more he evidently has a real natural musicality, to judge by his moulding of phrases throughout this disc.” Gramophone Magazine (Friday Afternoons)

“admirably read by the author, with a delightful mixture of sardonic humour and delicate description. The atmosphere is heightened by the music of Benjamin Britten, which brilliantly sharpens the word-pictures. […] It is all charming and will give great pleasure to young and old, for its story and the way it is told and for Britten's delicate score.” Gramophone Magazine (The Sword in the Stone)

“In advance of Britten’s centenary, a deep draught of the strong wine of his sensibility. The items are mostly first releases on CD, from the margins of his recorded oeuvre...The boy alto John Hahessy is sumptuous in songs from Friday Afternoons” Sunday Times, 22nd July 2012

“Britten's underrated United Nations anthem Voices for Today makes it onto disc at last, together with vintage recordings of artists the composer chose to work with.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2012 ****

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Peter Pears - A Treasury of English Song

Peter Pears - A Treasury of English Song


Bennett, R R:

Tom O’Bedlam’s Song

with Joan Dickson (cello)

Berkeley, L:

How Love Came In

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Bridge:

Tis but a week

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Goldenhair

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

When you are old

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

So perverse

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Journey's end

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Go Not, Happy Day

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Love went a-riding

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Britten:

Folksongs (selection)

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Let the florid music praise! (from On this Island)

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Busch, W:

If thou wilt ease thine heart

with Viola Tunnard (piano)

Come, o come, my life's delight

with Viola Tunnard (piano)

Two Songs of William Blake

with Viola Tunnard (piano)

Bush, A:

Voices of the Prophets

with Alan Bush (piano)

Butterworth, G:

Is My Team Ploughing?

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Delius:

To Daffodils

with Viola Tunnard (piano)

Dieren:

Dream Pedlary

with Viola Tunnard (piano)

Take, o take those lips away

with Viola Tunnard (piano)

Grainger:

Bold William Taylor

with Viola Tunnard (piano)

Holst:

Persephone (No. 1 from 12 Songs Op. 48)

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Ireland:

The Land of Lost Content

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

The Trellis

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Three Songs

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

I Have Twelve Oxen

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Moeran:

The Merry Month of May

with Viola Tunnard (piano)

In youth is pleasure

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Oldham, A:

Chinese Lyrics (3)

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Rainier:

Cycle for Declamation

Tippett:

Songs for Ariel

with Benjamin Britten (piano)

Warlock:

Piggesnie

with Viola Tunnard (piano)

Along the Stream

with Viola Tunnard (piano)

Yarmouth Fair

with Benjamin Britten (piano)


Peter Pears (tenor)

These recordings, made over the space of a decade from March 1954 to December 1964, capture Peter Pears in the high summer of his career and at the peak of his powers, a period roughly framed by some of the highlights of his partnership with Benjamin Britten: the creation of the character of Peter Quint in the composer’s The Turn of the Screw in Venice in September 1954 and the euphoric response to the first performance in 1962 of the War Requiem, one of the great events of post-war English musical life. The title ‘An Anthology of English Song’ was chosen by Decca for a projected three volumes featuring Pears. The first, with Julian Bream, included Renaissance lute songs by Dowland, Morley and others. The second was presumably intended to included 18th and 19th-century titles but was never made. The third, made in 1955, consisted of 20th-century English song, and much of this material appears on CD for the first time [CD2: 10-21].

A year earlier, Pears and Britten recorded nine of Britten’s folk song arrangements; these particular recordings (made in the same sessions as those for Winter Words) too receive their first release on CD [CD2: 1-9].

More British song was recorded with Britten in 1963 and with pianist Viola Tunnard (who worked closely with Britten in the 1960s, particularly on the Church Parables) in 1964. Of special interest too, will be works Pears commissioned from contemporary composers including the Cycle for Declamation by the South-African-born Priaulx Rainier, a testing tour de force for unaccompanied voice and Richard Rodney Bennett’s dramatic 1961 setting for voice and cello of the anonymous 17th-century ballad Tom O’Bedlam’s Song.

“Gracefully patrician in tone but always perceptive, Pears, with Britten's acute accompaniment, explores a wide range of British song from Butterworth to Tippett.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2011 ****

“To Daffodils is exquisitely sung, and The merry month of May is a tour de force spectacularly brought off by Viola Tunnard” … “The record is completed by a splendid scena by Richard Rodney Bennett, the accompaniment for cello alone, and three prose texts by John Donne set by Priaulx Rainier for unaccompanied voice. Peter Pears sings these with marvellous intensity and understanding, and Joan Dickson’s cello playing in Tom O’ Bedlam is very good indeed.” Gramophone Magazine

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Peter Pears – The Decca Premieres

Peter Pears – The Decca Premieres


Britten:

Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings, Op. 31

Peter Pears (tenor) & Dennis Brain (horn)

Boyd Neel Orchestra, Benjamin Britten

Down by the Salley Gardens

Peter Pears (tenor) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

Little Sir William

Peter Pears (tenor) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

Oliver Cromwell

Peter Pears (tenor) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

The Ash Grove

Peter Pears (tenor) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

The Bonny Earl o' Moray

Peter Pears (tenor) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

Heigh ho! Heigh hi!

Peter Pears (tenor) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

Sweet Polly Oliver

Peter Pears (tenor) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

There's none to soothe

Peter Pears (tenor) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

Five French Folksong arrangements

Sophie Wyss (soprano), Benjamin Britten (piano)

Vaughan Williams:

On Wenlock Edge

Peter Pears (tenor) & Benjamin Britten (piano)

Zorian String Quartet

Warlock:

Corpus Christi

Peter Pears (tenor) & Ann Wood (contralto)

BBC Chorus, Leslie Woodgate


On 24 June 1936, Peter Pears joined his BBC Singers colleague, contralto Anne Wood, at Decca’s studio in Upper Thames Street in the City of London to make his very first commercial recording, of Peter Warlock’s setting of the Corpus Christi carol for unaccompanied voices. The year marked a turning-point for Pears: he met Benjamin Britten that April at the International Society for Contemporary Music festival in Barcelona, joined a vocal group, the New English Singers, and set off on his first trip to North America, on tour with them in November. This Warlock premiere makes its first ever appearance on Decca CD.

Of course, Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings is inextricably linked with Pears as well as with Dennis Brain, and marks one of the most important of all Decca premieres, particularly given the label’s association with both Britten and Pears. But also of interest are the recorded premieres of Britten’s British and French folk song arrangements by Pears (British folk songs) and the Swiss soprano Sophie Wyss (French folk songs) in the 1940s. All of these make their first appearance on Decca CD, the Sophie Wyss recordings added as a sort of ‘bonus’ midway through the (Pears) CD.

Vaughan Williams’s cycle On Wenlock Edge focuses more on the middle register of Pears’s voice (unlike the upper reaches in Britten’s Serenade). As with the Britten cycle, the first appearances of these recordings received glowing praise in the music press.

“[it] is performed by them with a perfection that must have made the composer feel that his every intention has been realised. Dennis Brain’s tone is ravishingly beautiful, and – one out of many points of superb technical skill – the way he plays the high note near the end of the Prologue and Epilogue leaves one speechless with admiration” … “Dennis Brain – well, he was incomparable, that's all” Gramophone Magazine (Britten: Serenade)

“a most lovely piece of singing … ‘[his] clear diction and sense of word values ensures that justice is done to both poetry and music’” Gramophone Magazine (Vaughan Williams)

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