CHRISTMAS FROM HEREFORD
Hereford Cathedral Choir / Peter Dyke (organ) / Geriant Bowen · Regent REGCD388
The programme on this excellent disc is divided into Advent, Christmas and Epiphany sections. It features a well chosen balance of the sort of seasonal music that everyone knows, choral favourites that will be familiar to choristers and enthusiasts, and also some compositions that might be rather less familiar, even to the more expert listener.
The best-known items include O little town of Bethlehem; O come, all ye faithful;and Hark! the herald angels sing. Among the choral favourites are The truth sent from above; Poston’s Jesus Christ the apple tree; Mathias’s Sir Christèmas; Mendelssohn’s Frolocket, ihr Völker auf Erden; Peter Wishart’s splendid Alleluya, a new work is come on hand; H.C. Stewart’s On this day earth shall ring; Howells’s Here is the little door and Warlock’s Bethlehem Down. The rarer items include Ledger’s Adam lay ybounden; two pieces by Richard Lloyd (recorded for the first time); and organist Peter Dyke’s quirky-but-catchy Three Kings. A mark of the quality of the singing of the choir is the performance of Paul Manz’s E’en so Lord Jesus, quickly come. This is a disc guaranteed to give much pleasure to the listener.
FOLLOW THE STAR: Carols for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany
Wakefield Cathedral Choir / Simon Earl & Daniel Justin (organ) / Thomas Moore · Herald HAVPCD 370
The boys and girls are the stars of this recording – though that is not to diminish the fine singing of the lay clerks, or the colourful organ accompaniments and solos. The sleeve notes state that this CD ‘seeks to bring to public attention some of the lesser known and unusual compositions and arrangements of the Christmas repertoire, whilst including favourite melodies every listener will enjoy’. Paul Trepte’s arrangement of People look East encapsulates this aim in a single piece. It is a highly imaginative treatment of the familiar melody, published by the RSCM – well worth buying.
Rutter’s What sweeter music is sung with sensitivity; and John Gardner’s Tomorrow shall be my dancing day is rendered nimbly – complete with the percussion parts. The performance of Poulenc’s gorgeous but unforgiving Videntes stellam is especially notable. Appropriately, a piece by Kenneth Leighton (who was a boy chorister at Wakefield Cathedral) is included in the programme: O leave your sheep is a delightful piece that deserves to be better known. A warmly recommended disc.
The Choir of Chichester Cathedral / Timothy Ravalde (organ) / Sarah Baldock · Herald HAVPCD 379
The Advent ‘O’ Antiphons (sung in English) form the spine of the programme on this first-rate recording. The pieces that are placed around the antiphons are a fine balance of old and new. Patrick Gowers’s Ad te levavi has a haunting beauty. The music by Gibbons that is nowadays usually sung to the words O thou the central orb is a very welcome inclusion. Britten’s wonderful Hymn to the Virgin needs no introduction, but David Bevan’s Magnificat Octavi toni will probably not be familiar. Choral sections alternate with the plainsong, reflecting the composer’s expertise in the music of the Renaissance masters.
Another highlight of a disc that is of a consistently excellent standard is an ethereal performance of Joubert’s There is no rose. Mention must also be made of the various organ solos that enrich the programme yet further. The only aspect that some listeners might find not to their tastes is the rather particular way some vowels are pronounced (‘Come, thou long-expected Jesoos… From our fears and sins release oos’) – but one must accept that this is part and parcel of these polished performances. A very highly recommended release.
CHRISTMAS FROM BATH
The Choir of Bath Abbey / Marcus Sealy (organ) / Peter King · Regent REGCD 390
This disc is another excellent compilation of the old and the new. The boy trebles, girl trebles and men are all in fine voice and the organ sounds glorious – including its Cymbelstern and Glockenspiel! Pieces by Howard Skempton (Adam lay ybounden and There is no rose) are particular highlights and Malcolm Archer’s A little child there is yborn is tremendous fun – and irrepressibly jolly. Richard Shepherd’s A stable lamp is lighted is an interesting essay in Victoriana: it is affecting without being sugary. Thomas Hewitt Jones’s What child it this? is a melodically elegant setting. More contemporary in language, but no less accessible to the general listener is Gabriel Jackson’s setting of G.K. Chesterton’s poem The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap.
While the old favourites in the programme (Once in royal; It came upon the midnight clear; Unto us is born a son; Ding dong! merrily on high; God rest you merry, gentlemen; Good King Wenceslas, etc.) are likely to be responsible for most of the sales of this CD, there is much to delight the connoisseur. This disc deserves to sell out very quickly.
MIDWINTER: A Christmas Celebration
St Mary’s Cathedral Choir, Glasgow / Geoffrey Wollatt (organ) / Frikki Walker · OxRecs Digital OXCD-111
St Mary’s Cathedral is proud of its music tradition which embraces a more eclectic selection of styles than other cathedrals perhaps do. A reflection of this is found in the pieces in the programme that are accompanied on the piano, including the first two tracks: Bob Chilcott’s Mid-winter and John Gardner’s Tomorrow shall be my dancing day. The fresh, unpretentious sound of the voices suits these pieces wonderfully well.
The organ is not neglected, however, and puts in some solo appearances (Ireland’s The Holy Boy, Bach’s chorale prelude on ‘In dulci jubilo’ BVW 729 and, concluding the disc, John Cook’s Paean on ‘Divinum Mysterium’), as well as accompanying the traditional ‘congregational’ carols and Mack Willberg’s arrangement of Ding dong! merrily on high. Other choral pieces include Mendelssohn’s Frolocket, ihr Völker auf Erden; Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium; Paul Manz’s E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come; Sweelinck’s Hodie Christus natus est; and a rollicking west gallery carol, Hail! Happy morn. Recommended to anyone looking for a CD that has plenty of the familiar, but is also that little bit different.
AND COMES THE DAY: Carols and Antiphons for Advent
The Choir of Queens’ College, Cambridge / The Queens’ Chapel Players / Silas Wollston · Orchid Classics ORC 100027
This is perhaps the most ‘highbrow’ of the seasonal discs reviewed here, since it contains neither ‘congregational’ hymns nor pieces from the more populist end of the repertoire. The singing is clear, nicely balanced and expressive. The programme contains many pieces that will be familiar to – and much loved by – a wide audience, including There is no Rose (Joubert), Adam lay ybounden (Ord), the Matin responsory (adapted from Palestrina), A hymn to the Virgin (Britten), All this time (Walton), A spotless rose (Howells), Bethlehem Down (Warlock) and Benedicamus Domino (Warlock). But there are less familiar pieces, too, both ancient and modern: the Advent Prose opens the disc, followed by deeply expressive settings of the Advent Antiphons by Bob Chilcott (sung in Latin). Pieces by Charpentier, Pärt and Praetorius add to the delightful variety.
Conductor Silas Wollston also provides a composition of his own: I saw a sweet and seemly sight, a setting of an anonymous 15th-century text. This is a piece that cathedral choirs should take up! All in all, this disc is a joy from beginning to end and is particularly commended to those who like to take their Advent listening without ‘sweeteners’.
HODIE! Contemporary Christmas Carols
The Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir / Oliver Hancock (organ/piano) / Sam Gladstone · Convivium Records CR024
Music is clearly an important part of the life of The Portsmouth Grammar School, given the standards of performance achieved on this disc – one could be listening to a cathedral choir. Indeed, it is no surprise that several members also sing in Portsmouth Cathedral Choir and Cantate, the Cathedral Youth Choir. While there are occasions when the youth of the tenors and basses is betrayed (and their youthful timbres are no bad thing!), the maturity of the sound that they produce is impressive and a testimony to the quality of the training that the pupils receive.
With music by (among others) Tarik O’Regan (Ecce puer), Eric Whitacre (Lux aurumque), Paul Edwards (No small wonder), Bob Chilcott (O little town), Will Todd (My Lord has come), Thomas Hewitt Jones (In the bleak midwinter), Richard Rodney Bennett (Coventry Carol), Malcolm Archer (Angels, from the realms of glory), and Alexander L’Estrange (Hodie!), the repertoire is of a standard that a cathedral or adult chamber choir would be proud to programme. The quality of the music-making on this disc is genuinely impressive.
THE ROAD TO BETHLEHEM
The London Oratory School Schola / London Oratory Brass / Tom Little (organ) / Lee Ward · www.london-oratory.org/schola-cantorium/147.html
As well as enjoyable singing and an attractive programme, this disc boasts The London Oratory Brass, who pack a real punch in the ‘congregational’ carols, bringing tingles that must be even more thrilling when heard live. Other items include E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come (Paul Manz), Adam lay ybounden (Matthew Martin – a very atmospheric piece, much more ambitious than Ord’s famous setting), What sweeter music (Rutter), The little road to Bethlehem (Head, in the composer’s own arrangement for tenors and basses), Tomorrow shall be my dancing day (Gardner), and I sing of a maiden (Hadley).
The Schola sings regularly at the Brompton Oratory, as well as daily in the school chapel, at concerts, on tour and for recordings. What fantastic musical opportunities the London Oratory School (which, incidentally, is a state school) gives to its boys! This disc is definitely worth hearing.
Daniel Moult plays the Hill organ of Arundel Cathedral · Regent REGCD434
It is surprising that this is the first solo recording of the restored William Hill organ at Arundel. The instrument sounds at its best perhaps with its choruses and reeds, especially in the reverberant acoustic, well demonstrated in music by Handel (W.T. Best arrangement), Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Stanford and Saint-Saëns. But Daniel Moult also shows his virtuosity in three more recent pieces which should attract extra purchasers for this disc: Derek Bourgeois’s Variations on a theme by Herbert Howells, Paul Patterson’s Brumba (a rumba written for Birmingham Town Hall) and Graham Fitkin’s Wedding, written for a friend’s wedding and driving to an exhilarating climax.
THE ENGLISH CATHEDRAL SERIES Vol XVII
Christopher Allsop plays the new Kenneth Tickell organ of Worcester Cathedral · Regent REGCD449
Elsewhere in this CMQ, William McVicker refers to the recent untimely death of Kenneth Tickell. Here is a recording of Tickell’s 2008 Quire organ at Worcester for which Christopher Allsop has chosen a quirky, idiosyncratic programme that, in its colourful way, splendidly matches the instrument.
There is music by Hugo Distler, much French music (Tournemire, Alain, Bonnet, Vierne and a transcription of Debussy’s Deuxième Arabesque), English and Welsh music (Somervell, Mathias, Bridge, and, in tribute to two Worcester organists, Donald Hunt’s Tomkins’ Trifle), and two pieces by Shostakovich, the Passacaglia from Katerina Ismailowa and, to conclude, a glorious transcription by Allsop himself of the Festive Overture – a brilliant demonstration of the prowess of organ and organist.
IN AN OLD ABBEY
British Organ Music · Paul Walton plays the organ of Bristol Cathedral · Regent REGCD431
There can be few more appropriate instruments for this collection of lesser-known British 20th-century pieces than the historic Walker organ of Bristol Cathedral. The two most substantial pieces on the CD are both receiving their first recordings: Jeremy Cull’s reconstruction of Elgar’s Second Organ Sonata from the five movements of Elgar’s Severn Suite for brass, and John Cook’s Five Studies in form of a Sonata. They are both, in effect, five-movement Sonatas formed from other pieces. There is music by Sir Walter Alcock (Toccata), Herbert Sumsion (Intermezzo) and Douglas Steele (Arioso). Basil Harwood provides the title track (In an Old Abbey, Op.32). The final track, Prologue, is a marvellous movement from Christopher Palmer’s assembly of pieces from four of William Walton’s WWII film scores, A Wartime Sketchbook, arranged for organ by Robert Gower. Paul Walton sounds very much at home with the romantic character of the music and the organ.
GREAT EUROPEAN ORGANS No. 87
Martyn Rawles plays the organ of Lichfield Cathedral · Priory PRCD 1090
There is similar British and Irish 20th-century repertoire on this disc recorded on Lichfield’s much rebuilt instrument – reworked most recently by Harrison and Harrison with a new Nave organ, and a return of the Choir organ to something approaching its William Hill 1908 specification. The 80 speaking stops provide ample opportunities that Martin Rawles exploits to the full, especially with quieter stops used solo or in combination.
The music, apart from Paul Spicer’s The Land of Lost Content, comprises entirely well-chosen arrangements of mostly-Edwardian orchestral music: Stanford arr. Alcock, Elgar arr. West, Delius arr. Fenby (On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring), Parry arr. Stockmeister, Holst arr. Ley, Elgar arr. Wills (Sospiri) and, to conclude, Brewer’s transcription of Elgar’s 1911 Coronation March that marked the transition to a post-Edwardian era. The organ is now well at home again with repertoire from this period, and with a wide range of tone colours to apply to orchestral transcriptions. This is a very satisfying disc.