Britten: Sacred and Profane; AMDG; Five Flower Songs; Choral Dances from Gloriana

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Sacred and Profane; AMDG; Five Flower Songs; Choral Dances from Gloriana
PERFORMER: Polyphony/Stephen Layton
Polyphony’s brand of singing, clean as a whistle, rhythmically wonderfully alive, impeccably tuned and voiced, polished yet always fervent, is justly renowned and on this disc, under the direction of Stephen Layton, it serves Britten’s a cappella choral music extremely well. The variety here is vast, ranging from the still magical A Hymn to the Virgin, which Britten composed in 1930 at the age of 16, to the challenging cycle on medieval poems, Sacred and Profane, first performed in 1975, just over a year before his death. In between, the Gerard Manley Hopkins settings AMDG, recovered only in the Eighties but written shortly after Britten’s arrival in the United States in August 1939, show the jazziness and jauntiness of the Auden-influenced years, while the lovely Choral Dances from Gloriana (1954) and the Flower Songs, a challenge relished by many a university chamber choir, demonstrate an instinctive affinity with the choral idiom unsurpassed by any of Britten’s contemporaries. I love, too, the Chorale after an Old French Carol, to a text by Auden, which was first heard in a Christmas broadcast in 1944. Hard to remain unmoved by this touching work, given its time and circumstance, and given such an intense reading as here. Stephen Pettitt