Ceremonyes of Carolles
Hodie Christus Natus est [2:36]
Wolcum Yole [1:28]
There is no rose swych vertu [3:54]
That Yonge childe [3:56]
Grin greus ye rasses [0:54]
Les Bouffons [2:58]
This little babe so few days old [3:10]
Behold a silly tender babe [4:17]
Pleasure it is [1:34]
Adam lay b-bounden [2:55]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Ceremony of Carols [21:24]
Psallite Women’s Choir/Nancy Hadden
rec. 2006, St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, UK
CRD 3514 [54:17]
The idea of this disc seems to be to set medieval and renaissance music featuring the lyrics which inspired and prompted Britten’s Ceremony of Carols alongside the Britten. The early works open the disc, with the Britten forming the second half of the programme.
We open atmospherically with Hodie Christus Natus est, sung well by Nancy Hadden, the director of Psallite Women’s Choir. The works that follow are mostly familiar - either from the Britten settings, or in their own right as much-loved carols. A few might be less familiar, such as the version of Balulalow, from John Gamble’s Commonplace Book of 1660, which version I certainly have never heard before. As ever with early music, there has been some cross-fertilisation and setting by the artists of lyrics to contemporaneous music from other sources. The performances by Psallite aren’t flawless – we have the occasional intonation problem, some warbling, the ensemble isn’t always spot on (such as in This little babe so few days) and some of the voice lines are rather weaker than others. Yet those who take solo roles do so well enough (especially Hadden herself), and the accompaniment from Zak Ozmo on lute and guitar, Anthea Lehmann on symphonie, Poppy Holden on mediaeval harp and Hadden on flute and guitar are all good.
It’s quite a haunting rendition of the Britten Ceremony of Carols that we have here, although of course in a recording made in 2006, we don’t have the clarity and crispness of some of the many excellent recordings of this work that have been produced in recent years, and the quality of the choir can’t really compete, given the faults outlined previously which persist from time to time during the Britten as well. Booklet notes on the music from Hadden are brief and fairly basic, although well-written; full texts are included, although there are no artist biographies.
This is a disc that I will probably return to listen to again, although more for the early carols than for the Britten, of which there are better modern accounts available; and although it’s by no means a bad disc, there are other discs of mediaeval carols (as well as of the Britten) that are of better quality, so it wouldn’t be my top recommendation.