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Britten: Christ's Nativity / Layton, Gritton, Wyn-Rogers


Release Date: 11/21/1995 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 66825   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  David GoodeCatherine Wyn-RogersSusan Gritton
Conductor:  Stephen Layton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Paul's Cathedral ChoirHolst Singers
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Christ’s Nativity, earlier known as The King’s Birthday, a Christmas suite in five movements, receives here its first performance on record. Two numbers (“New Prince, new pomp” and “Sweet was the song the Virgin sang”) were revised by the composer and included, respectively, in the Aldeburgh Festivals of 1955 and 1966, but the complete work, which dates from 1931, remained unheard for 60 years. One of the minor marvels about the young Britten was his ability to lay his hands on texts that were both fresh in their antiquity and apt for his purposes. “Preparations”, from a Christ Church manuscript, is a splendid example. In colourful language, it reproaches Christendom, along the lines of how everybody would jump to it and dash about if the Read more King were suddenly to announce his arrival as a dinner guest, and yet how off-hand and niggardly we are (“all’s set at six and seven”) “at the coming of the King of Heaven”. All are fine settings, probably the best being “New Prince, new pomp”. This adapts a simple poem by the martyr Robert Southwell, now readily available in the Oxford Book of Sixteenth-Century Verse – but that was first published in 1932, so Britten would have had to look elsewhere. Where too, one wonders, would he have found the Carol of King Cnut, a curious poem by C. W. Stubbs and perfectly suited to its place as a joyful finale.

This must constitute the prime interest of the present disc; but the entire programme is welcome, assembling, as it does, a collection of choral works either for Christmas in particular or for thanks-giving in general. In as far as the performances and recorded sound call for adverse comment, it is in respects similar to those which made it needful in the choir’s recent Vaughan Williams disc, “Over hill, over dale” (Hyperion, 2/96). Stephen Layton, the conductor, must have a liking for slow speeds; either that or the resonant acoustics may have urged their advisability in the interests of clarity. Comparing A Boy is Born as performed here with the version by The Sixteen and the premiere recording under Britten himself, one finds that this (with the exception of a single movement) is the slowest, Britten the fastest. Moreover, the comparison arises only out of an immediate feeling, in the opening movement, that the thing is dragging and that the sound wants more immediacy and sharpness of definition. The exception is the “Three Kings” variation, where Britten takes the longest and Layton the shortest time, gaining from the extra impetus as from the deeper perspectives of sound. The good work of the Holst Singers themselves is enriched by the strong, pure tone of the St Paul’s trebles, and, in the Canticles, by David Goode’s excellent accompaniments.

-- Gramophone [3/1996]
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Works on This Recording

1.
Hymn to the Virgin by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Stephen Layton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Paul's Cathedral Choir,  Holst Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930/1934; England 
2.
A Shepherd's Carol by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Stephen Layton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Paul's Cathedral Choir,  Holst Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; England 
3.
A Boy was Born, Op. 3 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  David Goode (Organ)
Conductor:  Stephen Layton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Paul's Cathedral Choir,  Holst Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933/1955; England 
4.
Te Deum in C major by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  David Goode (Organ)
Conductor:  Stephen Layton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Paul's Cathedral Choir,  Holst Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; England 
5.
Jubilate Deo in C major by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  David Goode (Organ)
Conductor:  Stephen Layton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Paul's Cathedral Choir,  Holst Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; England 
6.
Christ's Nativity by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Alto), Susan Gritton (Soprano)
Conductor:  Stephen Layton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Paul's Cathedral Choir,  Holst Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; England 

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