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The death in December 2012 of Richard Rodney Bennett robbed us of one of the most gifted and certainly many-faceted British composers of his generation. as John Rutter rightly observes in his liner notes to this first-rate CD, Bennett’s prowess in so many different genres – concert music, opera, ballet, jazz and film music – makes it all too easy to forget just how accomplished and significant his choral music is. This CD proves to be a timely reminder. Rutter’s recording, with his own exceptional Cambridge Singers, includes Bennett’s most ambitious a cappella work, Sea Change (1983), whose texts are based on maritime themes and have a common dream-like quality, and the Missa brevis (1990), Bennett’s only liturgical piece, written for Canterbury Cathedral Choir. Both these substantial works are given scrupulous readings by Rutter and his singers, whose perfectly balanced tone and impeccable intonation are a constant pleasure. The performers are no less committed in the group of short carols, two of which were written for amateurs, in which all Bennett’s craftsmanship and professionalism as a composer shines through.

Like his one-time mentor Benjamin Britten, Bennett showed a genuine aptitude for writing music for children, particularly vocal works. Christopher Bell and the NYCoS National Girls Choir offer a delightful and varied programme of this corner of Bennett’s output. In addition to the amusing Letters to Lindbergh, the disc includes The Ballad of Sweet William, The Aviary, Dream-Songs, A Song at Evening and Four American Carols. All receive idiomatic readings from the clean, incisive voices of this superb Scottish choir, and throughout one marvels at Bennett’s gift for distinctive yet always memorable melody. Both discs can be warmly recommended.

PHILIP REED Read the full review on Agora Classica


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