The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

Sacred and Profane: Benjamin Britten, William Cornysh

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The Sixteen are prolific enough that one wonders why they need to slice and dice previous releases for reissues. Yet freshness of programming is one reason this English choir (actually bulked up to 18 for most of these works) is a consistent best-seller. To a selection of works by Britten and William Cornysh (probably a father-son pair, but reasonably enough treated as a single composer here) they add three new recordings of works by Cornysh to create an original program. This is fairly novel, and it promises to have the primary feature of a really good thematic program, namely, that it illuminates other facets about the composers involved in addition to its external idea. In this case, that means the mutual influences of sacred and secular forms in the music of these two composers. But the program does more than that: it reflects as well on Britten and the nature of his relationship to the English musical past. Britten was a composer who took a great deal from the English choral tradition without being neo-anything, and this album puts those borrowings into perspective. One might note that the final work, the rarely recorded Sacred and Profane (Britten's last choral work) fits the first aim well enough but is not really comfortable in the second context, and in fact breaks the mood somewhat. But fans of The Sixteen will find the choir's usual competence and freshness here.

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