Britten: A Ceremony of Carols; A Hymn to the Virgin; Rejoice in the Lamb; Hymn to St Cecilia; Missa Brevis; Sacred and Profane

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Conifer
WORKS: A Ceremony of Carols; A Hymn to the Virgin; Rejoice in the Lamb; Hymn to St Cecilia; Missa Brevis; Sacred and Profane
PERFORMER: Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/Richard Marlow
CATALOGUE NO: 75605 51287 2
In no area of his output was Britten’s broadly inclusive view of music-making more successfully evidenced than in his body of choral works. His determination to serve the full range of choral bodies, from amateur societies to the most sophisticated professional groups, was matched by his genius for stretching and transforming their performing abilities. This imbues all his choral music with an enduring freshness and ensures its continuing popularity, as the very existence of these two discs, one of them the first product of a new Britten choral conspectus, bears out.

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Both have to compete with the composer’s own performances, faithfully reissued on Decca. But, though full of unique interpretative insight, several of those now seem dated. There is certainly room for an approach such as offered by Marlow and his mixed-sex Trinity choir, whose unforced purity of tone and style never sounds precious – indeed the much-performed Ceremony of Carols gains a new lease of life.

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The Conifer programme, which moves from the early Hymn to the Virgin to the late Sacred and Profane, has three items in common with the Chandos; and in each case the fastidiously detailed clarity and subtlety of Marlow’s performances tend to make the highly competent Finzi Singers seem bland. (So does Chandos’s rather recessed, low-volume recording.) In its inclusion of the remarkable A. M. D. G. (1939), seven bold Hopkins settings not performed until 1984, the latter does, however, merit at least a hearing. Max Loppert