Britten’s substantial choral output ranges from small-scale pieces for boys’ choir to massive works such as the Spring Symphony and War Requiem. This three-album compilation brings together a large selection of early and late unaccompanied choral works, performed by The Finzi Singers under Paul Spicer.
Here, among many others, is Rejoice in the Lamb, written in 1943 for Walter Hussey, the vicar of St Matthew’s Church in Northampton, for his congregation’s Jubilee Celebrations. Hussey was interested in forging a closer association between the arts and the Church, an aim that Britten himself shared. The composer chose as his text extracts from Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno, a rambling poem of the mid-eighteenth century, composed largely in a mad house. Although there is a delightful sense of madness present here, the religious character of the work is the most striking.
A.M.D.G., seven unaccompanied settings of poems by Gerald Manley Hopkins, was among the first works written by Britten after his arrival in the US in 1939. The work’s title is an abbreviation of Ad majorem Dei gloriam (To the greater glory of God), a saying that appears throughout the writings of Ignatius de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order of which Hopkins was a member. The premiere performance of this work was meant to take place in November 1939, but the outbreak of war caused the concert to be cancelled. The first performance was given by the London Sinfonietta Chorus, several years after the composer’s death, in August 1984.
The Finzi Singers and Paul Spicer have recorded a wide variety of British music for Chandos, much of which has not been heard before either in performance or on disc. They have been regarded as major exponents of British twentieth-century choral music.