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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: 9 minutes 40 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)

Choral dances from Gloriana, 1954 version
composer
first performed on 7 March 1954
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Britten’s opera Gloriana, Op 53, was first performed at a gala event at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 8 June 1953 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, in honour of whose coronation (which had taken place just six days before) the work had been composed. Although popular with the general public, who flocked enthusiastically to the early run of performances, the opera was harshly treated in the national press: critics who were already sceptical of the composer’s meteoric rise to fame were delighted that the audience at the gala premiere—largely made up of unmusical diplomats and other dignitaries—was baffled by the work, and offended by its warts-and-all portrayal of an ageing monarch. Always pathologically sensitive to criticism, Britten made little attempt to promote the opera after this unfortunate debacle and it only became established in the mainstream operatic repertory many years after his death. He nevertheless salvaged certain parts of the score and sanctioned their use in concert performances.

The set of six Choral dances from ‘Gloriana’ for unaccompanied chorus was first performed by the BBC Midland Chorus in a broadcast on 7 March 1954; the set was later rearranged to include tenor solo and harp obbligato for a performance to mark the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, in 1967. The dances occur in the first scene of the opera’s second act, which portrays a colourful masque at Norwich’s Guildhall attended by Queen Elizabeth I during a royal progress. Britten had intended this scene to combine vivid pageantry with a homage to Elizabethan song and dance, but later felt that it impeded the dramatic flow of the opera as a whole, and in some later productions the entire scene was cut. The sequence begins with the appearance of the demigod Time, ‘lusty and blithe’, who is followed by his wife Concord. Her song is set to music made up entirely of concords, a deliberate witticism on Britten’s part. After Time and Concord have danced together, country girls, rustics and fishermen join in the celebrations before the concluding ‘Dance of homage’ to the visiting sovereign.

from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2001

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