Berlin RIAS Chamber Choir / Justin Doyle

Benjamin Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia - Choral Dances from Gloriana & Choral Works

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Berlin's RIAS Kammerchor had plenty of experience with English music, but with this recording of mostly early choral music of Benjamin Britten they take a new step forward. You may suspects you're listening to a non-English group: not from any foreign accent, which is nonexistent, but from the choir's distinctive sound. This is the album's overall strength: in Britten works that refer closely to English traditions, many English choirs tend to adopt a cathedral style or a stereotypically madrigalian one, as the case may be. But Britten's style, although it is steeped in the English past, is not precisely neoclassic, and a more muscular approach, such as the one offered here, works well. The choir's singing is gorgeous, clear in both diction and texture. Another attraction is the comparative rarity of most of the music; the Hymn to St. Cecilia, set to a text by W.H. Auden, gets top billing even though it occupies only a short stretch, because it is the best-known work on the program. Many of the rest are little experiments in encountering the English past. Sample one of the Five Flower Songs, Op.47, of 1950, precise, sharply etched little settings of English poetry that diverge entirely from the rather generic choral language that tends to appear with such texts today. The Choral Dances from the opera Gloriana, Op. 53, are madgrialian, but again these are no exercise in nostalgia. Only the final A.M.D.G. (Ad majorem Dei gloriam), set to texts by Gerard Manley Hopkins, has a more dramatic language, and it makes a fine conclusion. The album is the perfect antidote for those whose ears have been clogged by more recent sentimentalist British choral music, and it makes one want to hear more from Justin Doyle and his German choristers.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Choral Dances from Gloriana (Opera Op. 53, Act II)
1 1:32
2 2:09
3 1:21
4 1:08
5 0:58
6 2:15
7 10:51
8 3:33
Five Flower Songs, Op. 47
9 2:08
10 1:53
11 2:33
12 2:32
13 2:19
A.M.D.G. (Ad majorem Dei gloriam)
14 2:13
15 3:49
16 2:58
17 3:51
18 1:51
19 2:12
20 1:25
blue highlight denotes track pick