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

Britten: A Ceremony of Carols

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AllMusic Review by

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