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Britten: Canticles; The Heart of the Matter / Norman, Gould, Maclean

Britten / Norman / Gould
Release Date: 11/12/2013 
Label:  Stone Records   Catalog #: 8031   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  William TowersDaniel NormanChristopher GouldRichard Watkins,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BRITTEN Canticles, opp. 40, 51, 86, 89. The Heart of the Matter, op. 55 Daniel Norman (ten); Benjamin Maclean (treb); William Towers (ct); Harriet Walter (speaker); Richard Watkins (hn); Hugh Webb (hp); Christopher Gould (pn) STONE 5060192780314 (68:46 Text and Translation)


Those expecting five “canticles” will not be disappointed, as Read more the now separately-named and de-opussed third is here performed within a larger version framed by readings of other poems by Edith Sitwell. Britten never recorded it this way, but Peter Pears arranged texts for such a performance in 1983. It remained for Neil Mackie and Roger Vignoles to perform it so in 1986, with Peter Pears as reader, and Nicholas Phan and Myra Huang made a recording of this version in 2012, with Alan Cumming as the reader. Daniel Norman has been reviewed here in a number of recordings, but his recent Britten disc received a cool welcome from Lynn René Bayley (32:2).


Canticle I (1947), “My Beloved is Mine” (Francis Quarles), gets off to a colorless start but quickly picks up some weight as it moves on. Canticle II (1952), “Abraham and Isaac” (Anon), alas, is just inadequate. The choice to use a treble instead of either boy alto, as Britten once recorded it, or a female also, as he first performed and recorded it, or a countertenor, as has also been done, is slightly problematic. Benjamin Maclean is a fine treble, but he does not really have the low notes to match Norman. The Heart of the Matter [Canticle III (1954)] sounds like the voice is struggling, but, interestingly, when Norman puts on the pressure, the sound comes alive. Harriet Walter reads Sitwell’s poems quite well, but I am not enthusiastic about Richard Watkins’s horn playing. Canticle IV (1971) uses a countertenor in dissonant homophony with tenor and baritone in a poignant setting of Eliot’s Journey of the Magi . This is a very good performance, indeed, the best of the set, with all four performers listening to and playing off each other closely. By Canticle V (1974), “The Death of St. Narcissus,” Norman’s voice sounds scratched and strained but, perhaps strangely, it is all the more affecting in Eliot’s agonizing poem. Indeed, the singing in the last two suggest to me that Norman’s real heart as an interpreter lies in texts with a strong dramatic impulse, as in opera, perhaps.


As I have suggested, the competition in this set is fierce, and all the more so for few of them ever being performed in recital. Britten’s traversals with Pears and others are central to understanding these texts, though by the time he came to record the fifth, in 1976, Pears’s voice was under enormous strain and the result is not easy listening.


FANFARE: Alan Swanson
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Works on This Recording

1.
Canticle I, Op. 40 "My beloved is mine" by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  William Towers (), Daniel Norman (), Christopher Gould (Piano),
Richard Watkins (Horn), Roderick Williams (), Hugh Webb (Harp)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; England 
Venue:  Holywell Music Room, Oxford, UK 
Length: 7 Minutes 36 Secs. 
2.
Canticle II, Op. 51 "Abraham and Isaac" by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  William Towers (), Christopher Gould (Piano), Richard Watkins (Horn),
Hugh Webb (Harp), Daniel Norman (), Roderick Williams ()
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; England 
Venue:  Holywell Music Room, Oxford, UK 
Length: 15 Minutes 59 Secs. 
3.
Heart of the matter by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Daniel Norman (), Roderick Williams (), William Towers (),
Christopher Gould (Piano), Hugh Webb (Harp), Richard Watkins (Horn)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; England 
Venue:  Holywell Music Room, Oxford, UK 
Length: 2 Minutes 43 Secs. 
4.
Canticle IV, Op. 86 "The Journey of the Magi" by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Daniel Norman (), William Towers (), Christopher Gould (Piano),
Richard Watkins (Horn), Hugh Webb (Harp), Roderick Williams ()
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971; England 
Venue:  Holywell Music Room, Oxford, UK 
Length: 11 Minutes 16 Secs. 
5.
Canticle V, Op. 89 "The Death of St Narcissus" by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Richard Watkins (Horn), Christopher Gould (Piano), William Towers (),
Daniel Norman (), Hugh Webb (Harp), Roderick Williams ()
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1974; England 
Venue:  Holywell Music Room, Oxford, UK 
Length: 7 Minutes 49 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Canticle I, Op. 40, "My beloved is mine"
Canticle II, Op. 51, "Abraham and Isaac"
The Heart of the Matter: No. 1. Prologue: Where are the seeds of the Universal Fire
The Heart of the Matter: Reading: The earth of my heart was broken and gaped low - Fanfare
The Heart of the Matter: No. 2. Song: We are the darkness in the heat of the day
The Heart of the Matter: Reading: In such a heat of the earth
Canticle III, Op. 55, "Still Falls the Rain - the Raids, 1940, Night and Dawn"
The Heart of the Matter: Reading: I see Christ's wounds weep in the Rose on the wall
The Heart of the Matter: No. 3. Epilogue: So, out of the dark
Canticle IV, Op. 86, "The Journey of the Magi"
Canticle V, Op. 89, "The Death of Saint Narcissus"

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