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Richard Rodney BENNETT (1936-2012)
My dancing day [5:33]
Gloria, Gloria [3.28]
In the bleak midwinter [3.41]
New Year Carol [2.38]
Town and Country: The Sun has long been set [1.55]; Town and Country [5.09]
Serenades: Mistress Margaret [2.19]; Mistress Margery [1.55]; Mistress Anne [2.04]; My Darling Dear [5.02]; Mistress Isabel [2.27]
The Apple Tree [3.03]
Four poems of Thomas Campion: Winter Nights [2.44]; Never Weather-beaten Saile [3.53]; Fire, fire! [2.31]; The Hours of Sleepy Night [3.32]
A Good-Night [2.49]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
By Strauss
(arr. Bennett)[2.52]
Duke ELLINGTON (1899-1974)
Sophisticated Lady
(arr. Bennett) [3.51]
Cole PORTER (1891-1964)
Every time we say goodbye (arr. Bennett) [3.11]
Edward Goater (tenor), Olivia Robinson (soprano)
BBC Singers/Paul Brough
rec. Studio 1, Maida Vale, London, 19-20 January 2012
SIGNUM SIGCD293 [64.27]

This disc of choral works by Richard Rodney Bennett opens with the eponymous My Dancing Day,a move that I found rather brave bearing in mind the well-loved version by John Gardner and Holst’s beautiful part-song, both setting the same text. My feeling was that Bennett’s version failed to stand up to this stiff competition, despite being an interesting and well-composed rendition, with lyrical episodes interspersed with jazzier elements, and the use of a fuller text than we find in Gardner.
 
This is followed shortly by another version of a classic - In the bleak midwinter. Despite the Holst’s much-loved setting hovering in the background, Bennett here provides a successful and highly atmospheric work, with the effective word-painting on the word “moan” drawing my attention in particular.
 
Having opened with four ostensibly Christmas works, the fact that the rest of the disc contains works that do not seem to be particularly associated with the festive seasons struck me as a little odd. This is with the exception of The Apple Tree, another impressively characterful and efficacious work, yet stuck in the middle of the disc, separated from other Christmas works. This, however, was mitigated by the realisation that these Christmas works are not “carols” in the sense that a carol-singer might recognise, nor are they, in fact, especially redolent of any aspect of Christmas. They work in this programme just as choral works setting texts that are related to the birth of Christ.
 
In fact, the most Christmassy works here seems to me to be the New Year Carol, which I find deeply reminiscent of the tune Britten used in Friday Afternoons, but is nonetheless beautiful for that. 

Town and Country
opens with an appropriately pastoral setting of words from Wordsworth’s 1807 poem The Sun has long been set, which is juxtaposed with an upbeat, lively and modern setting of Charles Morris’s The Contrast, consequently extolling the virtues of city life over country life.
 
There then follows another very effective setting of poems by the English poet, John Skelton (c.1460-1529) in Serenades, a five-movement choral suite. It’s one of the main works on the disc. The contrasts between the lyrical and the playful are successfully conveyed.
 
A variety of arrangements conclude the disc, including Gershwin’s By Strauss, Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady and Porter’s Every time we say goodbye, which I found increased my feeling that this disc is something of an odd medley. Nevertheless, it does contain some good works and the performances from the BBC Singers are of the very highest standard throughout, with robust singing, good intonation and enunciation and superb communication.
 
Em Marshall-Luck 

see also review by John Quinn

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