This 2-CD compilation does provide a relatively inexpensive introduction to some of Britten's most important choral works; however, Gardiner just refuses to smile during his reading of the "Spring Symphony". Admittedly, the work is odd, but it does build to - what should be - a joyous outburst from the both the boy's and adult choirs at the work's concluding canon "Sumer is icumen". My introduction to the work was Andre Previn's recording from the 70s Britten: Spring Symphony Op. 44 / Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, and I still prefer it over the composer's own recording (although it is very, very good with a wonderful "Hymn to St. Cecilia") Britten: Spring Symphony, op. 44 / Cantata Academica, op 62 / Hymn to St. Cecilia. The sorely missed Richard Hickox made a very good digital recording in 1990 (much better than Gardiner digital trek from winter to summer, IMO, that brillantly highlights Britten orchestral writing) Benjamin Britten: Spring Symphony; Welcome Ode; Psalm 150. In both Previn and Hickox, the boys sing out at the end joyously; not so with the prefunctory Gardiner.
Gardiner's "Hymn to St. Cecilia" is nicely done, but it still lacks the warmth that I heard in the David Willcock's recording that introduced me to the work Britten: Choral Music from King's College, along with a magnificent "Ceremony of Carols". The "big" piece in this set is, of course, the "War Requiem". Nothing "clicked" for me while I listened to it. I wasn't moved. When it was over, I couldn't shake the feeling that the conductor really doesn't like Britten's music very much. Nothing will supersede Britten's own recording, although I keep Hickox's very close. I look forward to hearing/watching Andriss Nelson' blu-ray video of the performance War Requiem [Blu-ray]. In any event, I won't be listening to the Gardiner set again.