Bernstein • Britten • Janáček

COMPOSERS: Bernstein Britten Janáček
ALBUM TITLE: Bernstein • Britten • Janáček
WORKS: Chichester Psalms; A Ceremony of Carols; Otcenás
PERFORMER: Léon Charles (organ), Frances Kelly (harp), Justin Lavender (tenor), Cameron Sinclair (percussion); Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha

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Bernstein’s evergreen Chichester Psalms are sung here as they were conceived: for an Anglican choir of boys and men, and with the reduced trio scoring that probably matches the all-male timbre better. The slight earthiness of the St John’s College Choir boys (2007-8 vintage) gives the piece an appropriate edge, and there’s an excellent treble soloist (uncredited) in the middle movement. But the tenors and basses too often resort to their default golden choral-scholarly tone, at the expense of the muttered menace of that movement and the simple prayerfulness of the finale. The recording successfully balances voices, close-up harp, percussion and distant organ.

The choral element of the programme is completed by Janácek’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer with organ and harp, in which Justin Lavender’s heroic tenor solos seem out of scale with the more contained singing of the choir, and Britten’s Ceremony of Carols with harp. Given the quality of the St John’s boys, it’s a pity that this much loved cycle, written for treble voices, is sung in Julius Harrison’s arrangement for SATB choir – and that the trebles prescribed even by Harrison for the opening and closing plainchant processionals are replaced by the full choir. But the singing is again of a predictably high standard. With attractive instrumental interludes by Marcel Grandjany and William Mathias thrown in, this disc certainly has a lot going for it.

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Anthony Burton