Benjamin Britten was a prolific composer who managed to conquer every range of musical writing - chamber works, symphonies, operas, big choral works, song cycles for both soloist and orchestra and soloist and piano, children's works, ballets, works for amateur performers (such as the Church Parables), concerti, and works for solo instruments. There are few composers even today who understood the complexities of the English language as a source of lyrics as did Britten and though all of his works are penultimate examples of this talent, surely the Five Canticles are the zenith of this gift.
The Canticles were composed over a thirty-year period (1947 - 1974) and are a microcosm of Britten's development as a composer and philosopher. The five works are all inspired by religious themes and yet they also can be seen as occult references to Britten's own homage to his sexual proclivity. Here the canticles are sung impeccably by Ian Bostridge, tenor, David Daniels, countertenor, and Christopher Maltman, baritone and the series is beautifully united by the pianism of Julius Drake (with collaboration of harpist Aline Brewer and horn player Timothy Brown). To review each canticle would take far too much space, but at least some mention must be paid to the opening of the second canticle (Abraham and Isaac) in which the voice of God telling Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son is intoned by close harmony duet by Bostridge and Daniels: the effect is ethereal and wholly spiritual. Each of the five canticles is successful on every level.
Accompanying the Canticles are seven of Britten's Folksong arrangements and each of the three singers is given time and interpretive flair for each one. It would be difficult to imagine three better matched singers than Bostridge, Daniels, and Maltman - three artists who continue to grow in stature (these recordings were made in 2001). This CD contains some of Britten's more difficult works - but also some of his most sublime. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, January 07