2013 sees the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth and Hyperion starts celebrating early with this disc of two of the composer’s most popular choral works, both with a Christmas relevance. The cantata Saint Nicolas tells the story of the original ‘Santa Claus’, a fourth-century saint whose acts—revitalizing three boys who had been pickled by an unscrupulous landlord being among the more dramatic—led to his canonization as patron saint of children and sailors. Britten’s lively setting is distinctly operatic, full of incident and colour—with the story brought ‘home’ through the use of congregational hymns. The part of Nicolas (here sung magnificently by Allan Clayton, already acclaimed as the heir to Peter Pears and Anthony Rolfe Johnson) is one of Britten’s great heroic tenor roles.
Compilations are highly useful in understanding the works of the inexhaustibly tuneful British composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695). He had a few big hits, like the Funeral Music for Queen Mary (which is included here) and the opera Dido and Aeneas (which isn't). But much of his best music is scattered around in small bits, residing within genres that are rather odd from today's perspective. Purcell spent much of his short adult life as a theater composer, and his incidental music, for example, is filled with perfect miniatures…
The intensely practical choral music of the young Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds is steadily gaining appreciation across the world. The works on this new album owe their genesis to commissions from the United States, England and northern Europe and encompass ethereal expressions of uniquely arctic phenomena (listen for wine glasses turned—and tuned—to wondrously simple but devastating effect within the choral texture), American ballads and several works in the ‘Anglican tradition’, the fruits of the composer’s recent residency at Trinity College Cambridge. Trinity College Choir Cambridge here returns the compliment, as it were, with superlative performances of these varied and engaging works, all recorded under the watchful eye of the composer and conductor Stephen Layton.
Herbert Howells was acutely sensitive to the transience of life, having witnessed the loss of friends and contemporaries in the First World War and encountered deep personal tragedy when his son Michael died of polio at the age of just nine. And so a mood of elegiac yearning inhabits much of his choral music: the austere, lovely a cappella Requiem, and the elegant Take him, earth, for cherishing, commissioned to commemorate the death of President John F Kennedy, here lovingly performed by the young voices of Trinity College Choir, Cambridge, in Hyperion’s Record of the Month for April 2012.
…Although aficionados of English sacred music of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries may already have recordings of the works of Byrd and Gibbons included here, few will be likely to have recordings of much by Humfrey – and that may be this set's most persuasive recommendation. Harmonia Mundi's digital sound, which ranges from 1987 for the Byrd through 1992 for the Humfrey to 2003 for the Gibbons, is consistently clear, deep, and warm.
Synopsis: A solo chorister singing Once In Royal David's City begins this traditional celebration of Christmas from the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge. The story of the Nativity is told in the familiar words of the King James Bible together with Christmas poems by Kevin Crossley-Holland, WH Auden and Charles Causley. The famous Chapel choir, conducted by Stephen Cleobury, sings carols old and new, including such favourites as The Sussex Carol, In Dulci Jubilo, Ding Dong Merrily On High, The First Nowell, I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing By, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, Bethlehem Down and O Come, All Ye Faithful. – BBC