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"from the hand of the artist inimitable"
on 24 August 2003
Benjamin Britten ads to the tradition of English choral music with his inventive genius in these lovely pieces, sung so beautifully by the Choir of St. John's College in Cambridge, which consists of 16 choristers and 14 choral students, led since 1991 by Christopher Robinson, and with Iain Farrington on organ.
The first work, "Rejoice in the Lamb" was commissioned in 1943, and uses the 18th century poems of Christopher Smart, who was considered insane in his lifetime. The words have a childlike wonder to them, and praise God's creation in everything from flowers to a mouse, who is "a creature of great personal valour"; my favorite is "I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey", and both text and music in this composition are enchanting.
"Te Deum", from 1934, was according to the liner notes the first of Britten's works to be published. "Jubilate Deo" is a short piece from 1961, and "Antiphon" (1956), is one of my favorites, a conversation between men and angels. "Hymn to the Virgin" was composed in 1930, when Britten was only seventeen. "Festival Te Deum" ( 1944) is another terrific selection, melodic and powerful.
"Missa Brevis" (1959), has some outstanding vocal work, and perhaps among all these pieces, shows Britten's creativity at its best, and would be my choice if I could only pick one work from this CD. It is followed by "Hymn to St. Peter" (1955), and "A Hymn of Saint Columba" (1962), and Britten's only piece for organ solo, "Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria" (1946).
Fitting for Britten, who was born on St. Cecilia's day, the final piece is "Hymn to St. Cecilia". It was written during the early 40's, using the sad, reflective words of W.H. Auden, which are full of conflict, and the final resolution of "Translated daughter, come down and startle, Composing mortals with immortal fire".
This CD is interesting for admirers of Britten, as it spans over three decades of his choral compositions, and the performance is splendid. Recorded in 1999 in St. John's College Chapel, the sound is excellent, and total time 73:48