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Hyperion Records

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Sacred and Profane Love (c1515) by Titian (c1488-1576)
Galleria Borghese, Rome / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDH55438
Recording details: April 2000
Temple Church, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: March 2001
Total duration: 17 minutes 42 seconds

'The programme is delightful and the choir excellent … this has to be one of the strongest winners of the choral award in recent years' (Gramophone)

'Polyphony's brand of singing, clean as a whistle, rhythmically wonderfully alive, impeccably tuned and voiced, polished yet always fervent, is justly renowned, and on this disc it serves Britten's a capella choral music extremely well' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Musically impeccable, carefully wound and tuned, superbly balanced—a magnificent display of sheer beauty of choral sound' (American Record Guide)

'After hearing their latest CD of choral works by Britten, nothing will dissuade me from the conclusion that Polyphony under Stephen Layton is the best chamber choir in the country' (The Evening Standard)

'A valued possession … highly recommended' (Cathedral Music)

'Polyphony's exceptional energy, technical prowess and expressive flexibility make the most of every word and mood throughout this hour-long programme. This engrossing anthology of words and music comes highly recommended' (The Age, Melbourne)

August 1939; first performed in 1984; published in 1989
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In spite of an astonishing technical facility which might have led a less discriminating composer astray, the young Britten exercised a rigorous policy of self-criticism which inevitably resulted in his withdrawing several of his early works from circulation soon after their composition. In some cases, most notably the American operetta Paul Bunyan (1941), the suppression was due to poorly received performances; but it is difficult to know exactly why Britten withdrew the seven settings of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins entitled A.M.D.G., which were never performed in the composer’s lifetime. Sketched in August 1939, shortly after Britten’s arrival in the United States, the songs were originally intended for performance by Pears’s ‘Round Table Singers’ in London during November of that year. Possibly the decision to remain in the USA for several years influenced Britten to abandon the project before he had made a fair copy of the manuscript. It was only as recently as 1984 that A.M.D.G. was given its first performance, and the work was finally published in 1989 (without its original opus number—17—which had been reallocated to Paul Bunyan when Britten revised the operetta in 1976).

The initials ‘A.M.D.G.‘ stand for a famous motto of the Jesuits (Ad maiorem Dei gloriam—‘to the greater glory of God’), a sect which Hopkins had joined in his early twenties. Several of Hopkins’s poems, including O Deus, ego amo te (set by Britten), bear this motto in their manuscripts. (None of Hopkins’s poetry appeared in print before his death in 1889, and it was not until 1918 that Robert Bridges supervised the publication of the first collected edition.) Britten’s setting of Prayer I (‘Jesu that dost in Mary dwell’) indulges in a harmonic richness absent from some of the other more frugal settings, and is followed by Rosa mystica, a ternary waltz in which parallel thirds are set against a pedal point in ostinato rhythms. God’s grandeur contains fugal elements and graphic chromatic depiction of the words ‘bleared’ and ‘smeared’. The preoccupation of Prayer II (‘Thee, God, I come from, to thee go’) is simple octave doublings, and this directness is maintained in O Deus, ego amo te, where the music consists almost entirely of root-position major triads in unmeasured speech rhythms. The interval of a third returns to dominate the march-like setting of The soldier, and the final song (Heaven- Haven) sets one of Hopkins’s earliest poems to music of the utmost simplicity.

from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2001

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