Britten: A Boy was Born; Five Flower Songs; Sacred and Profane; Advance Democracy

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: A Boy was Born; Five Flower Songs; Sacred and Profane; Advance Democracy
PERFORMER: Finzi Singers, Lichfield Cathedral Choristers/Paul Spicer
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9701
This third volume of Chandos’s Britten choral edition juxtaposes what Michael Oliver calls the composer’s ‘real Op. 1’ with his last work for unaccompanied voices.

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Britten’s unfailing eye for a promising text is evident even in his student choral variations A Boy Was Born (1934), setting anonymous 15th-century texts alongside Christina Rossetti and Francis Quarles. The Lichfield choristers, particularly effective as the voice of the infant Jesus in ‘Lullay, Jesu’, add their distinctive timbre to the well-blended Finzi sound. Sacred and Profane (1975), written for Pears’s Wilbye Singers, mixes the earthily secular with a personal piety and preoccupation with death in a way that seems pretty typical of the tenor of medieval life.

Between these early and late works, come Advance Democracy (1938), one of several political works Britten wrote at the time; and the Five Flower Songs of 1950. The Finzis treat the latter with a light and airy touch, though the passage when the women’s voices soar high and forte in ‘To Daffodils’ is one of the very rare moments of strained sound on the disc.

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For many of these pieces the main competition comes from Collins’s Britten edition. It’s down to personal taste whether you prefer the Sixteen’s boyish soprano sound, or the Finzi’s warmer, more ‘human’ approach – both are highly recommendable. Janet Banks