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.
“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)
“[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)