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Benjamin BRITTEN
(1913 - 1976)
Rejoice in the Lamb, 16'04"
Hymn to St. Cecilia 10'18" and other choral works.
Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge.
Conducted by Christopher Robinson.
Recorded 13 - 15 July 1999, Cambridge. DDD Naxos 8.554791 [73'48"]
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Ten choral works by Benjamin Britten and a short piece for solo organ make up a balanced and generously filled Naxos disc. From 1999 recordings, the release gives an indication of the present standard of the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge under its current Director of Music, Christopher Robinson.

Rejoice in the Lamb, Britten's 1943 setting of Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart, is based upon one of poetry's more weird offerings. The writer was incarcerated in a lunatic asylum in 1756 for a form of religious mania and his poem reflects this in an innocent, childlike faith which strikes us as strange even today. Included in the eight sections is a poem For I will consider my cat Jeoffrey and the feline's daily devotions which involve twisting his body around seven times each morning. Britten chooses to set this part for a rather plaintive treble voice. He uses an alto to tell the tale of a male mouse that prepares to challenge a cat to protect his mate. The Te Deum in C, from 1934, contrasts a solo treble voice with the rest of the choir, while the short Jubilate Deo of 1961 has some sprightly organ playing.

In Antiphon - as the title suggests - there is interplay between the sections which ends with an eventual coming together of the trebles and the mens' voices.The Hymn to the Virgin shows even then (1930) Britten's originality in the way he sets a small group singing a Latin text against a poem in English from c1300. The Festival Te Deum is at its most effective when the closing let me never be confounded is sung by the solo treble. In Hymn to St. Peter Britten again interposes a Latin text into the English verse while the text of A Hymn of St Columba uses a text attributed to the Saint himself. The Hymn to St Cecilia (words by Auden) - a brilliant setting, superbly sung with fresh sounding boys voices and the men contrasting in a full-blooded performance. Iain Farrington is the fine soloist in Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria - the Spanish composer whose work would probably have been scarcely known in 1946 when Britten wrote the piece. It is a short, intriguing piece with some attractive harmonies, and sadly Britten's only venture into the field.

A pleasant recording, with some excellently drilled singing, immaculate diction and typical of what one would expect from a choir at the highest level of the Anglican Church tradition.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

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