Named one of NPR's Favorite Artists of 2011, American tenor Nicholas Phan returns to the music of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) on a new album available today, October 9 from Avie.
On the eve of the Britten centenary, Still Falls the Rain showcases both the great British composer's remarkable gift as a collaborator and Phan's increasingly lauded interpretative powers. The album features The Heart of the Matter, a song cycle for tenor, narrator, horn, and piano, performed here by renowned actor Alan Cumming, as well as the principal hornist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Jennifer Montone, and pianist Myra Huang, Phan's long-time recital partner.
The album also includes: A Birthday Hansel, Op. 92; Canticle V – The Death of Saint Narcissus, Op. 89; Folksong Arrangements for Voice and Harp, with the award-winning Israeli harpist Sivan Magen; and Folksong Arrangements for Voice and Piano, including "Greensleeves" and "The Holly and the Ivy." Phan's previous Britten release, his solo debut recording, Winter Words, was a breakthrough project for Phan; it made many "Best of 2011" lists, including those of the New York Times, the New Yorker, Time Out New York, the Boston Globe, and the Toronto Star. Phan will celebrate the release of Still Falls the Rain with a Britten program at New York's popular downtown music club Le Poisson Rouge on October 15.
"My idea for Still Falls the Rain was to focus on Britten as a collaborator – he wrote much of his music for specific musicians, which accounts for some of the unusual instrumental combinations in his vocal chamber music," says Phan. The previous album, Winter Words, contained song repertoire that Britten created for his life-partner, tenor Peter Pears, including the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo and the cycle of Thomas Hardy settings which gave the album its name. For the second album, the musical focus is Britten's relationships with other musicians. In addition to The Heart of the Matter – inspired by the poet Edith Sitwell and hornist Dennis Brain – the remainder of the album consists of the complete songs that the composer wrote for Pears to perform with harpist Osian Ellis when, toward the end of his life, Britten himself was too ill to accompany Pears in recital.