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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Noye’s Fludde Op.59 (1958) [50:52]
A Ceremony of Carols Op.28 (1942) [21:34]
Benjamin Luxon (bar); David Wilson-Johnson (bar); Catherine Wyn-Rogers (sop)
Jeffrey Dyball (harp: Ceremony of Carols)
Principals of the BBC Concert Orchestra (Noye’s Fludde)
Finchley Children’s Music Group/Nicholas Wilks
rec. Haberdasher’s Aske’s Boy’s School, Elstree, 18-19 October 1997 (Noye), Church of All Saints, London, 13 July 1997 (Ceremony)

The magnificent opening to Noye’s Fludde, ‘Lord Jesus, think on me’, shows in a nutshell, how Britten, with ease, created such effective music through a vast mixed bag of forces, many of whom are children. A simple melody is built up with youthful voices and recorders. It is accented, punctuated and given impressive harmonies by the professionals. And there you have it: maximum inclusiveness. Many passages in this score are far more demanding however: young solo voices are given complex rhythmic syncopations and counterpoint in movements like ‘O, Lorde, I thanke thee lowde and still’. There is little compromise in the boisterous entries, trills and thrills asked of the recorders.

The soloists are central to the piece of course, and this production has the benefit of very strong voices in Benjamin Luxon – resonant and impressive as ‘The Voice of God’ and David Wilson-Johnson as a somewhat put-upon ‘Noye’. The musician’s forces are peppered with names like Jennifer Bate on organ, Tristan Fry playing timpani and percussion, and trumpeters from the Welsh Guards Band on bugles. The recording is excellent, though panning from left to right with the mixing desk is never much of a substitute for a procession. There is only one real competitor in this field: Norman Del Mar’s spirited 1961 Decca recording (436 397-2), with Suffolk forces and the location of Orford Church where the première was given. This has historical precedent in its favour, but there is nothing amateur about Somm’s more recent production, and there are plenty of genuinely moving moments, none more so than the final apotheosis, preceded by some beautiful sounds from the handbells. The Finchley Children’s Music Group appear with the composer in cheerful mood on the cover of the booklet in a 1962 rehearsal, showing that they too have a grand tradition in contemporary music.

The aforementioned Decca CD is coupled with ‘The Golden Vanity’. With Somm we are given the even more substantial if more frequently recorded A Ceremony of Carols. The first accompanied movement Wolcome Yole! is swift and eager, and the discipline and well-balanced sound from the choir is apparent right from the opening Procession. Britten wrote this piece while on the boat returning to England in the spring of 1942, and the economy of means which he employed became a turning point in the development of his style. The pleasantly resonant if non-churchy acoustic, a good balance between harp and voices and great attention to detail in the projection of the words means that this recording provides all of the richness and variety this music has to offer.

This CD is worth it for the big names and vast forces of Noye’s Fludde alone, and the coupling makes it doubly attractive. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a souvenir from some school production with only local interest. This recording can hold its own in any catalogue, and deserves as much recognition as any around.

Dominy Clements


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