Hymn to St Cecilia; Choral Dances from Gloriana; A Hymn to the Virgin; Five Flower Songs; A.M.D.G.
RIAS Kammerchor/Justin Doyle
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902285 53:42 mins
This is very pleasant listening – four sets of unaccompanied choral works by a true master of the genre, coupled with one of Britten’s earliest, the atypical yet undeniably beautiful A Hymn to the Virgin. The disc starts with the Choral Dances from Gloriana, its opening bell-like peal of ‘Time’ as exuberant and uplifting as one could hope. The RIAS Chamber Choir sings each well contrasted dance to perfection – the soothing lull of ‘Concord’ succeeded by three increasingly lively pieces before the final calm of ‘Final Dance of Homage’. Equally good is the choir’s account of A.M.D.G., Britten’s once lost settings of Gerard Manley Hopkins which he composed in 1939 while living in America. These receive vibrant and engaging accounts, the choir’s zestful singing, cleanly pitched and euphonious, bringing out the haunting sweetness as well as the mysterious atmosphere of Britten’s music.
I rather suspect more time was put into preparing these and the Flower Songs than the more familiar Hymn to St Cecilia: the choir gives its opening section a lovely lilt, but what should be a dramatic moment when the basses sing their fanfare-like ‘notes tremendous thundered’ – plangent against the bright major chord of the upper voices – is rather muted. And then the soloists in the penultimate section, beautifully though they sing, offer some very un-English vowel sounds. Niggling points, perhaps, but there are already so many excellent recordings of this particular piece. Nonetheless, those wanting good performances of the Choral Dances and A.M.D.G. need not hesitate.