The music that Britten wrote in the early 1940s, following his return to Great Britain from America—and whilst he was progressing on the composition of Peter Grimes
—has a remarkable energy and vitality. Still today, 60 years or so after the first performance of Rejoice in the Lamb
, Op 30, it is striking how vividly and brilliantly Britten responds to the witty, idiosyncratic words of poet Christopher Smart. The text is a celebration of the creator God found in all things. It begins with a hushed prayer that leads on to an invocation of a whole series of Old Testament characters sung to some thrilling, rhythmically taxing, music. Then follows a contemplation of the poet’s cat Jeoffry and the animal’s awareness of his maker; here a solo vocal part converses playfully with an obbligato organ line just as a cat might be teased with a ball of wool. Further meditations follow—on a mouse and on flowers, both also reflections of their creator’s greatness—before the concluding sprint through an animated parade of musical instruments and a graceful Purcellian ‘Hallelujah’ that neatly brings the work to a close. It is perhaps typical of Britten that he responded to Walter Hussey’s invitation to compose a piece for an Anglican church service by writing something that was so far away from the manner of other contemporary church music. There is music here that has a deep poignancy in its most contemplative moments but it is delightfully boisterous and almost comical in the fast-moving sections.
from notes by Simon Whalley © 2013