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.