WORKS: Spring Symphony; Hymn to St Cecilia; Five Flower Songs
PERFORMER: Alison Hagley (soprano), Catherine Robbin (contralto), John Mark Ainsley (tenor); Monteverdi Choir, Choristers of Salisbury Cathedral, Philharmonia Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 453 433-2
Britten’s Spring Symphony, composed in 1949, follows the traditional four-movement shape of the symphony divided into shorter sections, each sharing a similar mood or point of view. It is distinguished by dazzling orchestration and evocative choral writing. This new Gardiner recording is first class, with soloists, choir and orchestra excelling themselves consistently from the opening invocation of a still landscape caught in the frosty grip of winter, yet anticipating the liberating warmth to come, in ‘Shine out, fair sun’, to the jubilant closing finale in which the combined forces celebrate the joys of spring and look forward to summer.
Highlights include the rejoicing of ‘Spring, the Sweet Spring’, in which the soloists cleverly and wittily mimic birdsong, the mystical ‘Out on the lawn’ at the heart of the work, with its sublime chorus suggesting some divine revelation, and the beautifully shaped and expressive singing of Hagley and Ainsley in ‘When will my May come’ and ‘Fair and fair’. The other, a cappella items are captivating and memorable, sung with great skill and sensitivity – particularly the moving setting of Auden’s verse ‘O dear white children’ in the Hymn to St Cecilia. Ian Lace