Album review: Ben Johnson, James Baillieu, Britten: The Canticles (Signum Classics)


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The Independent Culture

One of the more interesting of the tide of Britten centenary tributes, The Canticles features the five vocal settings composed at various points between 1947 and 1974, in which the ostensible religious themes disguise more secular interests – the barely veiled homoeroticism of Francis Quarles' 17th-century adoration of Christ in "Canticle I", the allegorical linking of Blitz and Crucifixion in the Edith Sitwell poem used for "Canticle III" etc.

Set to piano parts occasionally reflecting the influence of the French Romantics, the most intriguing realisations are those on which tenor Ben Johnson is joined by other voices – with baritone and countertenor as the three Magi in "Canticle IV", and most sublimely, paired with countertenor for the Abraham and Isaac story of "Canticle II".

Download: Canticle II; Canticle IV