> Choral and Song
Etherea Vocal Ensemble: "Ceremony of Carols"
With Cloutier, harp. Some texts and translations. Delos DE3422
Those who delight in the ethereal melodies and intricate vocal lines of Benjamin Britten's carol cycle should savor this new disc. The eight women of the Etherea Ensemble, and their director, Derek Greten-Harrison (an OPERA NEWScontributor), have recently formed this chamber group dedicated to performing choral works for treble voices. Accompanied here by the proficient harpist Grace Cloutier, they present an elegant, nuanced reading of Britten's score, as well as other favorites of the Christmas season.
Devotees of the boys'–choir sound should note that the earliest version of The Ceremony of Carols was first performed by the women of the Fleet Street Choir, just a few months after Britten composed the work during a long, dangerous voyage home from America in 1942. The singers of Etherea impress the listener with their dynamic range and flexible technique, moving from single voice to ensemble in the "Procession/Recession," tossing off the rollicking measures of "Wolcum Yole" and filling the complex harmonics of "There is no Rose" with rich sound. Greten-Harrison, who sings baritone roles as well as the countertenor repertoire, is most effective in the melancholy "That yonge child." Agility and rhythmic precision mark the ensemble's renditions of "As dew in Aprille" and "This little babe," in which the contrapuntal lower voices emerge with unusual clarity. The striking and mysterious harmonic effects of "In Freezing Winter Night" provide perhaps the finest example of the singers' ability to shade and blend vibrato, and in the celebratory "Deo Gracias" they execute the bell-like sixteenth notes with admirable clarity and verve.
Other selections on the disc include Gounod's Noël,a gracefully melodic work, anchored by soprano Awet Andemicael's sparkling solo verses; several traditional carols with arrangements by John Rutter and David Willcocks; and Rutter's Dancing Day carol cycle. Standout moments in the latter include the interweaving of melodic lines with descants in "A virgin most pure," the delicacy and superb blending of tone in "Coventry Carol" and the final selection, "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day," sung with enough exuberance and warmth to see us through the coldest of winter nights.
Cloutier provides superb accompaniment throughout, and in addition to the solo harp interludes in the Britten and Rutter, she excels in a lush, romantic performance of Gliere's "Impromptu for Harp." Included with the disc are informative notes on the program and biographies of the accomplished young performers.
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