Notes and Editorial Reviews
A Ceremony of Carols.
Jón Stefánsson, cond; Elisabet Waage (hp); Graduale Nobili
SMEKKLEY 19 (52:21
Text and Translation)
Graduale Nobili is simply a wonderful choir, and hearing this recording for the first time was a delightful experience. Let me begin, then, by noting that this is one of the most perceptive and interesting performances of Britten’s piece in its original
guise. It was apparently written aboard ship in 1942, when Britten and Peter Pears were returning to England from the United States. Though its first performance, of seven of the final 12 movements, was by a women’s chorus, the score says only “treble voices” and Britten himself recorded it with the Copenhagen Boys’ Choir and Enid Simon.
What is immediately striking about this performance is that the opening chant, “Hodie,” is clearly understood as Gregorian and subtly accented so. In a real procession, Britten did not want the harp to play; it does so here as there is no pretense of a procession, and the effect is the richer for it. What will strike many listeners who know this work well is that Stefánsson’s speeds are considerably slower than even Britten’s of 1953, but the result is a greater sense of mystery and meditation. Earlier this year, I had warm words to say for Stephen Layton’s performance with the women of the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, but, though it is a close call, I would give this new one the edge.
(1974) is another take on similar material for the same forces, and there is but one meeting with Britten’s choices,
There is no rose
, of which Rutter takes only the first two verses. The harp part in this suite is considerably more elaborate than Britten’s and the whole set does not attempt the modern medievalism that Britten brings off.
The carol arrangements let Rutter do what he does best; they are neither simplistic nor do they call undue attention to themselves. He is not constrained by their extant melodies; rather, that fact lets him explore graceful contrapuntal variations upon those tunes.
Though I have never encountered Rutter’s set before, this is by no means its first recording, not even in this pairing. Some of these arrangements have been recorded separately, but their compilation into this grouping appears never to have been reviewed here. Even if it were, I would have no trouble recommending this recording of these pieces. As a technical note, the join between the harp prelude and the first carol, and that between the last two, is bumpy.
FANFARE: Alan Swanson
Works on This Recording
A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28 by Benjamin Britten
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1942; England
Dancing Day by John Rutter
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1974; England
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