Stephen Layton / City of London Sinfonia / Holst Singers / Trinity College Choir, Cambridge

Britten: A Ceremony of Carols

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If you've been attracted to Benjamin Britten's music by the film Moonrise Kingdom, this album makes an exceptionally good place to start getting to know more of his music: it features two of the composer's best-loved works, both on Christmas themes and both written at a modest level of virtuosity like that of the little oratorio Noye's Fludde, featured in the film. If you didn't come to the album via that route, it's still a strong presentation of some Britten favorites. A Ceremony of Carols, written in 1942 as Britten returned to Britain from the U.S., is a brilliantly innocent setting of some old English texts for three-part high chorus, soloists, and harp. Ideally suited for boys' voices, it works equally well, and indeed was originally conceived for a choir of women as it is done here. Even though Britten very soon got on board with the idea of boychoir performance, it's a pleasure to hear it this way. The work is paired with the Christmas cantata Saint Nicolas, for tenor, chorus, four-hand piano, organ, strings, and percussion. Though a bit more operatic, the work seems akin in spirit to the Ceremony of Lessons and Carols, and tenor Allan Clayton is a Britten singer in the classic bright mold. You may or may not like Hyperion's rather shiny English cathedral-choir sound as a general rule, but it's made for music like this, and conductor Stephen Layton is the right person for the job in assembling the varied forces needed to perform these works. A fine cornerstone Britten release.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
A Ceremony of Carols, for upper voices and harp, Op. 28
1 1:27
2 1:24
3 2:30
4 1:56
5 1:20
6 0:56
7 1:25
8 4:23
9 4:03
10 1:06
11 1:04
12 2:33
Saint Nicolas, cantata for tenor solo, mixed chorus, piano duet, organ, strings & percussion, Op. 42
13 5:37
14 2:38
15 4:46
16 7:57
17 6:47
18 2:53
19 6:42
20 5:29
21 6:20
blue highlight denotes track pick