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A highly enjoyable CD, presents two of Britten’s substantial and most familiar musical celebrations of Christmas in exceptionally refined and beautifully controlled readings. The blended sound of the King’s voices is gorgeous, especially from the boys in A Ceremony of Carols. The composer himself might have considered it a shade too lovely in this work, where he is known to have favoured a sound that was more direct and earthy. nevertheless, there’s plenty of youthful energy in this performance, in which Rachel Masters is a marvellous accompanist. The difficulties of A Boy Was Born hold no fears for Cleobury and his forces, and in their performance one can marvel again at the youthful audacity of Britten’s writing. Bonus tracks on the CD include, as a pendant to Boy, Britten’s 1961 arrangement of the Corpus Christi Carol, in which the composer accompanies boy alto John Hahessy; three of Britten’s original carols from the Wilbye Consort, directed by Peter Pears; and his little-known arrangement of The Holly and the Ivy.

PHILIP REED Read the full review on Agora Classica

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