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Britten & Poston

A Ceremony of Carols Benjamin Britten
An English Day-Book Elizabeth Poston

NYCoS National Girls Choir/Christopher Bell
Claire Jones Harp

Signum SIGCD228


A Ceremony of Carols, selected from a book of medieval poems, was composed in 1942, whilst Britten was in a cargo ship, braving the U-boats whilst returning to England from the United States.

Popular though it be, I have for decades avoided "Britten's ultimate revel in the unblemished joy of boyhood, of 'life before the fall" [Classics Today], remembering it as somewhat insipid...

This recording - one of few by girls' choirs - is a refreshing surprise. The singing has vitality, rhythmic security, and boasts fresh-voiced unnamed soloists who sing steadily without vibrato. And Ceremony reminds me what a superb anthologist of English verse was Benjamin Britten; many gems here to relish, e.g. the 15C Deo Gracias.

Googling, I found that Britten's Ceremony of Carols "has spawned more ghastly recordings than almost any other in the choral cannon!". Some of them are listed below... *

There are several for boys' choirs, but none unequivocally done by girls? These Scots lasses met for a workshop week in Aberdeen where they recorded this programme. Luckily for me on this occasion, Musical Pointers does not do comparative reviews or award stars.

And this version is unique in its coupling, a premiere recording of a worthy companion piece, Elizabeth Poston's An English Day-Book [c. 1969], a felicitous set drawing on Britten's example and including Spring, the sweet spring which Britten featured in his Spring Symphony. Extras include the setting of a poignant poem with wonderful imagery ending "Not yet, I say. Don't mourn me yet!" written by a young girl shortly before she was killed in a car accident.

Signum's NYCoS National Girls Choir version of A CEREMONY OF CAROLS goes high on my Christmas recommendations list.

Peter Grahame Woolf

*Recordings of A CEREMONY OF CAROLS:

Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford/Frances Kelly/Francis Grier • ASV CDQS6030 • ASV CDWHL2097

Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford /Francis Grier • Resonance CDRSN3007

Choir of King's College, Cambridge/Osian Ellis/David Willcocks • EMI CDM7 646532 • EMI British Composers CDM565112-2 and EMI 562796-2 • EMI Collector's Edition 2175262 [review] • CFP 9689492

Choir of King's College, Cambridge/Rachel Masters/Stephen Cleobury • Decca 4480562 • Eloquence 467612

Morriston Boys' Choir/Maria Korchinska/Ivor Sims • Beulah mono 1PD14 • Pearl GEM0002

New London Children's Choir/Skaila Kanga/Ronald Corp • Naxos 8.553183

Sioned Williams/Westminster Cathedral Choir/David Hill • Hyperion CDA66220

Barbara Ann Biggers/American Boychoir/Vincent Metallo • Albemarle AR 1003

Finzi Singers/Andrew Lumsden/Paul Spicer • Chandos CHAN9598

Westminster Abbey Ch/Martin Neary • Sony SK62125

Tavener Consort & Ch/Andrew Parrott • Sony 60713

The Sixteen/Harry Christophers • Collins Classics 1370-2 • Coro 16034

Indianapolis Children's Ch/Beverly Westner-Hoehn/Henry H. Leck • VAI Audio 1130

Toronto Children's Ch/Jean Ashworth Bartle • IMP PCD1088

Bambini di Praga/Ivana Zizková • Multisonic 3101632

Enid Simon/Copenhagen Boys Ch/Benjamin Britten • London 436394-2

Cambridge Trinity College Ch/Frances Kelly/Richard Marlow • Conifer 75605512872

Cambridge Trinity College Ch/Richard Marlow • Sony 88697581312

London Oriana Ch/Osian Ellis, Robin Kimber/Leon Lovett • ASV CDWHL2096

Women Of The Boston Cecilia/Karol Bennett, Marylene Altieri, Carol Baum/Donald Teeters • Newport Classics NPC0085619

The Christ Church Cathedral Boys' & Girls' Ch, Indianapolis/Jill Pitz/Frederick Burgomaster • Four Winds FWT3011

Farnham Youth Ch/Julia Freeman/David Victor-Smith • Herald HAVPCD164

St Davids Cathedral Choir/Simon Pearce, Angharad James/Timothy Noon • York Ambisonic YORKCD174

Finchley Children's Music Group/Jeffrey Dyball/Nicholas Wilks • Somm SOMMCD212 [review]

Francesco Gasa, Sebastia Bardolet, Escolania de Montserrat, Xavier Canadell, Josep Pieres, Maria Lluisa Ibanez, Gregori Estrada/Dom Ireneu Segarra • Koch 316242

Wakefield Cathedral Girls Choir & Lay Clerks/Honor Wright/Louise Marsh • Regent REGCD138

Oxford Christ Church Cathedral Ch/Stephen Darlington • Lammas LAM146D [review]

Rochester Cathedral Ch/Jane Lister/Roger Sayer • Priory PRCD584

Cambridge St. John's College Ch/Marisa Robles/George Guest • London 430097-2

Spivey Hall Children's Ch/Nella Rigel/Martha Shaw • Aca Digital 7161

Rooke Chapel Ch/William Payn • Albany TR177

Vasari Singers/Caryl Thomas/Jeremy Backhouse • Classics for Pleasure 5737212

William Hall Chorale, All-American Boys Chorus /Marcia Dickstein/William Hall • Klavier 11085

Treble chorus of New England/Judith Ross/Marie Stulta • Afka 510

Vienna Boys Ch • RCA Victor 68150

Vivaldi Choir of Alessandria • Fine Tune 4421

Robert Shaw Chamber Singers/Robert Shaw • Telarc CD80461

Musica Bohemica/Hana Mullerova-Jouzova/Pavel Horak • Arco Diva UP0070-2 [review]

Czech Phil Ch/Libor Pešek • Supraphon SU3122

Voca Nobili/Willy Postma/Maria Helbekkmo • Simax PSC1106

Pacific Boychoir Academy/Kevin Fox • Pacific Boychoir Academy

Elysian Singers of London/Matthew Greenall • Continuum CCD1043

Elektra Women's Ch • Skylark 9703

Le choeur Les Rhapsodes/Andre Chiasson • Analekta AN29340

Madchenchor Hannover/Ludwig Rutt • Thorofon CTH2107

Worcester Cathedral Choir Boys/Brian Davis/Daniel Phillips • Griffin GCCD4022

Dresden Kreuzchor/Jutta Zoff/Martin Flamig • LaserLight

Wiener Sängerknaben/Elisabeth Bayer/Anton Neyder • GEMA Arts Music 43060 [review]

Downside School/Bejamin Britten • Decca 4756040

Ch Christ's College, Cambridge/David Rowland • Regent REGCD243

Peter Pears, others unknown • Documents 231134

Psallite Women's Choir/Nancy Hadden • CRD CRD3514

Canterbury Cathedral Ch/David Floor • York 202