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SIG 317
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SIG 317

The Canticles

The Classical Shop
release date: February 2013

Originally recorded in 2012


Benedict Nelson

- (baritone)

Christopher Ainslie

- (countertenor)

Lucy Wakeford

- (harp)

Martin Owen

- (horn)

James Baillieu

- (piano)

Ben Johnson

- (tenor)


Maida Vale Studio 2, London

11-13 April 2012


Tony Sellors

Record Label


Vocal & Song


Total Time - 55:59
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  The Canticles  



Canticle I, Op.40 (1947)

1 'My beloved is mine' 8:04
  for tenor and piano  

Canticle II, Op.51 (1952)

2 'Abraham and Isaac' 17:01
  for tenor, countertenor and piano  

Canticle III, Op.55 (1954)

3 'Still Falls the Rain - the Raids, 1940, Night and Dawn' 12:01
  for tenor, horn and piano  

Canticle IV, Op.86 (1971)

4 'The Journey of the Magi' 11:13
  for tenor, countertenor, baritone and piano  

Canticle V, Op.89 (1974)

5 'The Death of Saint Narcissus' 7:40
  for tenor and harp  

Signum SIG 317

Britten: The Canticles – Ben Johnson (tenor), Benedict Nelson (baritone), Christopher Ainslie (counter-tenor), Lucy Wakeford (harp), Martin Owen (horn), James Baillieu (piano)

As part of the celebration of Britten’s centenary in 2013, this new recording presents Britten’s five Canticles, performed by the tenor Ben Johnson with James Baillieu accompanying.

Ben Johnson describes his attraction to these works in his self-penned notes for the disc: ‘Each is deep with meaning or subversion, a trademark of Britten’s music to a modern audience. In their very performance they glide through such variety of style that it makes them wonderfully difficult to categorise. They are song, opera, cantata, and chamber music, and so they correspond with the most delicate of intimacy and to the most effective of grand gesture... In his biography of Britten, Humphrey Carpenter points out the close links between the Canticles and Britten’s operas. This answers in part their difference from the “usual” song repertoire: their religious flavour (a stronger taste in some than others) mixed with the circumstances of their composition make for a unique strand in Britten’s output.’

"... a superb collection containing some of the most intensely beautiful of all Britten’s vocal writing."

Andrew Clements - The Guardian - 15 February 2013

                   ****    - Excellent 

Luca Ciammarughi - Musica magazine - July/August 2013

"..,For the most part this rewarding, superbly engineered new version offers exceptional insights and degrees of beauty. Amid exalted company this excellently recorded release stands tall."
Mark Valencia - - 1 June 2013

                    Performance ***      Recording ****

"This attractive release offers a new generation of voices for Britten in his centenary year; and a useful new compilation of the Canticles for the catalogue. The team of musicians is led by the tenor Ben Johnson who is intelligent, clear of enunciation and entirely without pretension... and the exressive nuance of James Baillieu’s piano accompanying is reminiscent of Britten’s own..."

Hilary Finch - BBC Music magazine - August 2013

 "This is a beautiful recording of Britten’s five Canticles. It is one of the finest new discs of Britten’s music that I’ve heard in this anniversary year, and it’s one I’d strongly encourage any admirer of his vocal music to hear... the recording, made in association with the BBC, is warm and very well balanced; the piano sound is particularly fine. This is a disc to which I’ve returned several times in the last few weeks and it has moved me on each occasion. I recommend it very warmly."

Nigel Simeone - International Record Review - June 2013

 "... well worth hearing."

Richard Fairman - Gramophone magazine - June 2013

 "… Among new issues, I especially like Signum’s complete recording of the five Canticles whose compositions spanned almost Britten’s entire creative career ... The tenor Ben Johnson and his pianist James Baillieu have the measure of this often dense and difficult music ... Some canticles require other performers, including the baritone Benedict Nelson, and the harpist Lucy Wakeford. All perform well ..."  ****

David Mellor - The Mail on Sunday - March 2013

 "Ben Johnson is rising rapidly through the richly stocked ranks of young British tenors. His musical range is wide (as demonstrated by the current ENO production of La Traviata), but Johnson has already made a particular name for himself singing Britten, as is confirmed by this very fine disc of the five canticles composed for Peter Pears between 1947 and 1974... If the other vocal contributions don’t always quite match Johnson’s impeccable phrasing and subtle control and colouring, this is nonetheless a superb collection containing some of the most intensely beautiful of all Britten’s vocal writing." ****

Andrew Clements - The Guardian - February 2013

 "...There’s nothing precious or pained about Ben Johnson’s tenor in his admirable recording of the five Canticles. The tone is sturdy, open and direct..." 

Geoff Brown - The Times - March 2013

"Tenor Ben Johnson, accompanied by James Baillieu, performs Britten’s five Canticles. The music embraces a variety of styles, including song, opera, cantata and chamber music. The album includes contributions from countertenor Christopher Ainslie and baritone Benedict Nelson. Released as part of the celebration of Britten’s centenary, this CD comes highly recommended."
Gavin Engelbrecht - Northern Echo - February 2013

 "One of the more interesting of the tide of Britten centenary tributes... Set to piano parts occasionally refelcting the influence of the French Romantics, the most intriguing realisation are those on which tenor Ben Johnson is joined by other voices - with baritone and countertenor as the three Magi in ’Canticle IV", and most sublimely, paired countertenor for the Abraham and Issac story of Canticle II."

Andy Gill - The Independent - 22 February 2013

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