Britten, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Delius & Stanford

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Britten,Delius & Stanford,Elgar,Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Sacred and Profane
WORKS: Works
PERFORMER: RIAS Chamber Choir/Marcus Creed
This disc is a little treasure box. It isn’t simply an unbroken sequence of miniature masterpieces: the ordering of the pieces is inspired, too. If Elgar’s ‘Go, song of mine’ were any less of an achievement, its hymn to ‘th’unerring spirit of grief’ might have fallen flat after the exuberant grotesquerie of Britten’s ‘A death’; instead its nobility defies Britten’s gallows humour. Later, Elgar’s surprisingly experimental ‘There is sweet music’ neatly anticipates the harmonic fun-and-games in Vaughan Williams’s Three Shakespeare Songs (the second of which sheds intriguing light on the finale of Vaughan Williams’s Sixth Symphony). The final contrast – the sybaritic Delius followed by the ethereal purity of Stanford’s ‘The Blue Bird’ – is especially telling. Performances are excellent: finely shaped, with intense but contained expression, sound polished but never to the point of blandness. Intonation, balance, blending and contrasting of voices are well-nigh perfect. A slight asperity in the opening phrase of the first Delius song is the only blemish I noticed. The RIAS singers’ pronunciation is so good you’d hardly guess that English wasn’t their first language, though the plum-free vowels are an added blessing. First-rate recordings too, with pleasing background atmosphere but no blurring of detail. Stephen Johnson