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alternatively Crotchet

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Rejoice in the Lamb Op. 30 [19:03]
A Wedding Anthem (Amo Ergo Sum) Op. 46 [10:04]
Festival Te Deum Op. 32 [7:47]
A Boy was Born Op. 3 [29:16]
Mary Seers; Janet Coxwell (sopranos),
Thomas Trotter (organ)
Corydon Singers/Matthew Best
Westminster Cathedral Choristers/David Hill
rec. St Albans Church, Holborn, London, 31 January, 1, 3, 4 February 1984. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

An excellent reissue by Hyperion on their Helios label, this disc opens with that astonishing work Rejoice in the Lamb. The piece was commissioned by St Matthew’s, Northampton, to celebrate the church’s fiftieth anniversary. Britten chose words by Smart, an eccentric eighteenth century mystical poet, who wrote his Jubilate Agno - which includes the famous “For I shall consider my Cat Jeoffrey” - in a mental asylum. Most of the words are heavily concerned with animals and nature and music or instruments. The resulting combination of rather odd but intriguing text and stunning music is completely unique. There is nothing else like this amazing work!

All the soloists here are of the highest standard. Soprano Mary Seers has a very pure voice, quite boy-like and crystalline, with almost no vibrato. This is an excellent choice as her voice works perfectly for this sort of music, and is very beautiful. All other soloists – Michael Chance, Philip Salmon and Quentin Hayes - are similarly well-suited to their roles, and perform with great clarity and beauty of voice. Even the sopranos in the Corydon Singers are wonderfully pure-toned, resulting in a performance that is incredibly clear and fine. Yet although the singing is quite delicate at times, the performers are able to invest it with spirit and fire when necessary: listen to the incredibly dramatic, chilling and effective rendition of For I am under the same accusation with my Saviour. 

On the whole, this is a very fine performance. It is fairly measured – possibly even a little on the slow side, but we consequently get the full benefit of the beautiful singing and good enunciation. The resonant acoustic of St Albans Church in Holborn conveys an ethereal quality, yet does not detract from the clarity of the sound. 

The Wedding Cantata was composed to celebrate the wedding of the Earl of Harewood to Marion Stein, both of whom were friends of Britten. The words were written for the occasion by Ronald Duncan. Again, the soprano, Janet Coxwell this time, has a very pure and clear voice that suits the music, and the piece is given a wonderfully joyful performance. The Festival Te Deum follows, with some radiant singing. The disc then concludes with A Boy was Born – yet again, a remarkable piece given that Britten was only 19 when he composed it. This despite the fact that we know from even earlier works - such as the Quatre Chansons Françaises - that he had found and developed his own voice even early in his teens. 

All in all, a splendid disc – superb performances of excellent works, and well worth getting hold of.

Em Marshall


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