Britten: Choral Works (Vol. 2)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Choral Works (Vol. 2)
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: 13432 DDD
This selection of Britten’s choral music bears a passing resemblance to that recorded by the Vasari Singers (reviewed in the March issue). The Vasari Singers were entirely competent, but the Sixteen have introduced into their performances a vibrant enthusiasm that does much to reduce the cloying sentimentality hovering around music composed for the English liturgy.

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Interestingly, both CDs have the same recording engineer, although the recording for The Sixteen is much more upfront. It is not quite as atmospheric as the dreamy, distant sound of the Vasari Singers but it delivers much more punch and greatly enhanced diction. The only problem is that it gives added prominence to the soloists, who are not all as good as the ensemble singing might suggest. The voices that bind well in the chorus are somewhat friable and exposed when set apart from it. The organ, which has a prominent role in the Te Deum and Rejoice in the Lamb (among others), sounds occasionally out of tune but has a well-rounded woody tone in the English tradition.

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Not all the works on this disc have liturgical origins. The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard was smuggled out of the country during the war for performance in a prison camp in Germany, and it is a superlative example of how narrative power can be sublimated into simple but expressive music. Advance Democracy is more of an oddball let down by simplistic lyrics. It is the inclusion of works such as these that has made this disc well balanced and a pleasure to listen to. Christopher Lambton