National Youth Choir of Scotland National Girls Choir / Christopher Bell

Britten: A Ceremony of Carols; Elizabeth Poston: An English Day-Book

(CD - Signum Classics #228)

Review by

The majority of recordings of Britten's A Ceremony of Carols pair the work either with other Christmas repertoire or with other Britten choral music, so this album of music for children's voices by a variety of composers on a variety of subjects allows it to be heard in a fresh context. The terrific sound quality also makes this recording stand out. It has a wonderful bell-like clarity that is especially appropriate for the sound of the harp. A Ceremony of Carols is frequently recorded in churches with an atmospheric resonance that doesn't always allow the music's transparency and delicacy to be heard to full effect. What's lost in ceremonial ambience is more than compensated for by the pleasure of hearing all the details of Britten's scoring. It can be like hearing the work for the first time. The other pieces add to the appeal of the album. Christopher Bell, conductor of National Youth Choir of Scotland National Girls Choir, described his excitement on discovering Elizabeth Poston's An English Day-Book, a cycle also accompanied by harp, that uses mostly medieval and Renaissance texts that trace the course of a day, beginning and ending with the night. It does make an ideal companion piece for the Britten. It doesn't sound derivative and its language is occasionally more astringent, but its lyricism and the inventiveness and wit of the writing make it an excellent match; this is certainly a piece that deserves to be widely performed. The two brief contemporary a cappella works that round out the album are pleasingly melodic. The young performers sing with exceptional precision, warmth, and character, and their diction is impeccable. The soloists may be young, but the clarity and lovely intonation of their voices sounds fully professional. Harpist Claire Jones brings expressive depth and lively playfulness to her part. Highly recommended.

Track Listing

Title/Composer Performer Time
A Ceremony of Carols
1 01:39
2 01:21
3 02:23
4 01:49
5 01:23
6 00:58
7 01:23
8 03:40
9 03:15
10 01:09
11 01:07
12 01:56
An English Day-Book
13 01:11
14 01:39
15 01:16
16 02:46
17 02:52
18 01:56
19 02:18
20 01:35
21 01:23
22 01:52
23 00:51
24 04:03
25 03:15
blue highlight denotes track pick