- Canticle I: My Beloved Is Mine, for high voice & piano, Op. 40
- Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, for alto, tenor & piano, Op. 51
- The Heart of the Matter, for tenor, narrator, horn & piano
- Canticle III:Still Falls the Rain, for tenor, horn & piano, Op. 55
- The Heart of the Matter, for tenor, narrator, horn & piano: Reading - I see Christ's wounds weep in the Rose o
- The Heart of the Matter, for tenor, narrator, horn & piano: Epilogue - Fanfare - So, out of the dark...
- Canticle IV: The Journey of the Magi, for countertenor, tenor, baritone & piano, Op. 86
- Canticle V: The Death of St Narcissus, for tenor & harp, Op. 89
At their best, Benjamin Britten's "Canticles" are hypnotic works that walk a fine line between piety and theater. If they sound studied, they lose their connection to gut emotion, and if they go over the top expressively, Britten's finely woven tapestries of sound give way to chaos. Few recordings have managed to straddle that line as well as this one by Philip Langridge, Steuart Bedford, and a first-rate collection of British collaborators. Langridge's singing shares many qualities with that of Peter Pears, for whom the "Canticles" were all written: his voice is not always conventionally beautiful, but he sings with clear dramatic intention, crisp diction, and musical precision. The success of this collection rests on Langridge's convincing ability to inhabit a musical world so personally tailored to another singer. For his part, Bedford brings a deep understanding of Britten's compositional language that originated in collaboration with the composer himself. The combination of the two makes this collection preferable to any other on the market, with the exception of the original Britten/Pears recording if you can find it -- and perhaps even then, since the sound quality is so much better. One especially interesting feature of this collection is the inclusion of "The Heart of the Matter," a setting of eight Edith Sitwell poems, including "Canticle III, Still Falls the Rain," and featuring four spoken movements, read here capably by Dame Judi Dench. "The Heart of the Matter" is an obscure treat, and it gives a new context to "Still Falls" for those who only know it as a stand-alone work. Among the "Canticles," numbers two and four stand out as particularly successful here; in the second, "Abraham and Isaac," Langridge and contralto Jean Rigby create a more convincing voice of God (both voices singing together, often at close dissonance) than can be heard on any other current recording, and then diverge nicely to flesh out the characters of the faithful father and sacrificial son; in "Canticle IV, Journey of the Magi," Langridge, baritone Gerald Finley, and countertenor Derek Lee Ragin deal very effectively with the awkward prosody and phrasing, lending the work an arresting atmosphere and almost magical strangeness.