Treble Angus Benton won the BBC Radio 2 Young Choristers of the Year Competition in 2015, and last year he made this recording Homeward Bound with pianist Malcolm Archer on the Convivium Records label. Benton and Archer perform an attractive mix of songs by Handel, Michael Head, Malcolm Archer, RVW, and folk songs arranged by Phyllis Tate, Malcolm Archer, Benjamin Britten and Jay Althouse. For some of the songs Benton and Archer are joined by Julia Desbruslais (cello), Gareth Hulse (oboe) and Karen Wills (flute/piccolo). A percentage of sales of the CD goes to support the NSPCC.
Angus Benton was 12 at the the time the recording was made in 2016, and was then one of the sixteen Quiristers forming the treble line in the Chapel Choir of Winchester College, where Malcolm Archer is Director of Chapel Music. Archer says in his introduction to the disc that the idea behind the recording was to capture Angus’s voice whilst it was still at its best.
Benton has a nice clear voice with a lovely focused sound, not large but well formed with a lovely sweet sound, and his diction is admirable. His programme is a typical mix of art songs and folk songs, including a new song The song wandering Aengus written specially for him by Malcolm Archer.
In Handel’s Where’er you walk from Semele, Benton sings with creditable style and nice phrasing, complete with discreet ornaments in the da capo. The aria from Handel’s Tolomeo is sung in Arthur Somervell’s arrangements as Silent Worship.
One nice feature of the disc is the arrangement of some of the songs for piano, flute, oboe, and cello. The Skye Boat Song works very well in Archer’s sympathetic arrangement, with Benton giving the music a charming sense of innocence. Other songs arranged include Archer’s version of the jolly traditional The coasts of high Barbary.
The Sally Gardens and The Ash Grove are given in Benjamin Britten’s versions. The other art songs include RVW’s Linden Lea and three Michael Head songs, all in creditable performances with Head’s The ships of Arcady being gently delightful.
Benton is not the sort of treble who gives sophisticated quasi-adult performances of the music, though he sense of phrasing and musicality is very high. As I have said, he brings a charming sense of innocence to the music, though occasionally this does not quite mesh with the words. Having the phrases of lost love from The Ash Grove and The Sally Gardens sung with such innocent clarity is a little jarring.
The life of the treble voice is inevitably short, and this disc is charming snapshot of a voice at its best.