Classical CD Reviews

Benjamin Britten: Choral and Organ Music – Luke Bond, organist/ Truro Cathedral Choir/ Christopher Gray – Regent

An intensely rich and well sung recording of Britten’s major sacred works—with a couple of surprises as well.

Published on May 30, 2013

BENJAMIN BRITTEN: Choral and Organ Music – Luke Bond, organist/ Truro Cathedral Choir/ Christopher Gray – Regent REGCD349, 74:33 [Distr. by Albany] *****:

Having just reviewed an album of Britten’s sacred choral music, I was surprised at my reaction to this current disc. Higginbottom and his Oxfordites do a creditable job in their nearly-exhaustive set, but I was not expecting to be so taken with this disc by the new music director of the Truro Cathedral Choir, Christopher Gray, in this his first disc with the ensemble. Only three of the pieces on this new release (not including Britten’s one and only organ work, Prelude & Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria) are not duplicated on the Higginbottom disc.

What I like better here is the fuller and more lustrous acoustic, the fatter and more energetic choir sound—with excellent tonal qualities—and the overall superbly resonant mix of all the forces involved. With the inclusion of The Sycamore Tree (by the 17-year-old composer) and the arrangement of variation five of Britten’s choral variations A Boy was Born, now called the Corpus Christi Carol, we are treated to a couple of esoteric pieces not normally found on disc.

The composer was born on St. Cecelia’s Day in 1913, and his setting of W.H. Auden’s poem makes his Hymn to St. Cecelia one of the standards of the literature.  This performance is first rate. Add to it the rarity of Britten’s last known choral work, Advance Democracy, written to a text by Randall Swingler that contains reference to that great testimony to appeasement, the Munich Pact. The lifelong pacifist Britten must have been particularly affected when the results of this infamous meeting failed to bear fruit. The 1938 piece is poignant indeed.

As mentioned, sound is just terrific on the recording, and the performances nothing short of rousing. If I had to pick between this and the Higginbottom recording, I would most likely go with this one.

Te Deum in C; Jubilate Deo in E flat major (1934); Corpus Christi Carol; The Sycamore Tree – Sweet was the Song; A Hymn to the Virgin; Hymn to St Cecilia, Op. 27; Prelude & Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria; Missa Brevis in D major, Op. 63; Antiphon, Op. 56b; Rejoice in the Lamb, Op. 30; Advance Democracy

—Steven Ritter

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