Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: A Ceremony of Carols; Rejoice in the Lamb; Canticle II; A Hymn to the Virgin; A Wedding Anthem; Antiphon
PERFORMER: Westminster Abbey Choir/Martin Neary
CATALOGUE NO: SK 62615

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One of the most unlikely of mystics, Benjamin Britten penned his Hymn to the Virgin when he was just sweet 17. In its antiphonal responses between eight-part choir hymning the Virgin’s virtues in English and four-strong semi-chorus echoing their phrases back at them in Latin, it’s a gift to the Choir of Westminster Abbey, singing on its home ground, under Martin Neary.

This all-Britten collection surrounds the familiar Ceremony of Carols – surely the most affecting anthology of its kind ever composed – with less familiar items like the Wedding Anthem for Lord Harewood and Marion Stein (now Thorpe) and the Christopher Smart setting Rejoice in the Lamb, plus a guest performance, as it were, of Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac with its other-worldly opening for unison alto and tenor (Michael Chance and Ian Bostridge) as the Voice of God – worth a million dollars, as BB himself confided to Tippett.

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Neary and the Westminster Choir are going to be heard a lot this Christmas, thanks to their contributions to Princess Diana’s funeral service and the subsequent tribute CD, but this disc is one of the best things they have done.