Sometimes experience really counts: all four of the carol settings which launch this Richard Rodney Bennett anthology were written in the past five years, and evince an easy mastery that makes them a delight to listen to. The part-writing is endlessly resourceful and inventive, without ever drawing attention to its own cleverness, and the word-setting is pointed; the late Bennett's ear for a melody had in no way deserted him in his eighth decade.
Serenades, five settings of the eccentric verse ofJohn Skelton, is another recent work, and here it's 'My Darling Dear' that stands out. Bennett focuses on the darker elements in this tale of cuckoldry and deception, quietly probing the more uncomfortable emotional implications of Skelton's playfully ribald narrative. The more reflective side of Bennett's writing surfaces again in the gently pulsing ruminations of Never Weather-beaten Saile, from Four Poems of Thomas Campion, and the tenderly moving A Good-Night, memorialising Bennett's friend Linda McCartney.
A cappella arrangements of songs by Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Cole Porter serve as encores, allowing the BBC Singers to swing in slightly freer style together. Their high standards of execution, under Paul Brough's empathetic direction, grace the entire programme.