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A Ceremony of Carols
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
A Ceremony of Carols
[21:17]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Locus Iste
[2:47]
Virga Jesse floruit [4:00]
Os justi [4:32]
Christus factus est [5:09]
Ave Maria [3:27]
Jacobus GALLUS (1550-1591)
Missa Ad Imitationem Pater Noster, 8 Voceum
[26:18];
Puer Concinite [1:29]
Repleti sunt [2:09]
Tomas Ludovico da VICTORIA (1540-1611)
Una hora
[2:58]
O regem coeli [2:42]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525-1594)
Hodie Christus natus est
[2:17]
Giovanni NASCUS (1510-1561)
Incipit lamentation
[4:54]
Jacobus de KERLE (1531-1591)
Missa Regina Coeli
[5:06]
Elisabeth Bayer (harp)
Chorus Viennensis, Wiener Sangerknaben/Anton Neyder; Hans Gillesberger
rec. September-December 1971, Vienna, Austria
ACANTA 233602 [41:12 + 47:53]

The Vienna Boys Choir, whose previous members include Haydn, Schubert and Hans Richter, has been through some tough times since their inception in the 15th century. After the collapse of the Austrian monarchy in the early 20th century they entered mainstream consciousness in the 1960s after a Walt Disney film about and starring the choir. The 21st century has seen a rival choir set up amidst allegations of falling standards as well as child-abuse accusations from former members. This CD set is a re-release of recordings made in the 1970s, perhaps the golden-age of the choir.
 
The age of the recordings is instantly heard in the performance style of the early music on the second disc. During the 1970s opinion changed regarding “historical performance practice” and you would be unlikely to hear a performance like this nowadays. The trebles dominate the contrapuntal texture in the Missa ad imitationem by Gallus. The warmth of the boys’ sound is achieved through liberal use of vibrato which is lacking in the lower parts, provided by Chorus Viennensis. The sound is more unified in the works which the boys perform by themselves. Both pieces by Victoria display the unique sound of trebles using their very low register which continues throughout the early pieces. These performances are very much of their time; a more recent interpretation would have more lightness to the articulation and a faster tempo. However, the most enjoyable aspect of these early works is the ability of the boys to shape their melodic lines independently.
 
The title track of the CD Britten’s Ceremony of Carols was performed under Anton Neyder. It has the same full, vibrato-rich sound as the other works which becomes a bit overwhelming in the loudest movements. All the soloists sing with incredible expression making these movements the most enjoyable. For those seeking a different interpretation, try the recording of women’s voices by The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge and Stephen Layton on Hyperion CDA67946.
 
The Bruckner motets are all very slow. However, this does allow for a lot of detail to be included. For example, Christus Factus est is full of dynamics and subtle shadings. The full sonorities of Bruckner’s choral writing are well suited to the rich sounds produced by these forces but occasionally lack rhythmic intensity and direction.
 
These two CDs are a real snapshot of a former age. This is a great souvenir of a world-famous choir as they were at their prime and is an interesting comment on 1970s performance practice. It is worth a listen but there are more enjoyable recordings out there.
 
Hannah Parry-Ridout 

Review index and discography: Britten's A ceremony of carols