Choral Music, December 2014


The Christmas carols reviewed in this section and the next are a selection from a much larger collection considered for review: they are those that I think are of good quality, accessible, enjoyable and appropriate to church, school and secular choirs. The carols which follow are therefore my own warmly-recommended choices. Any of them will enhance your Christmas programme. If you are reading this review too late for your choir this year, please consider the recommendations for next year!

Thomas Hewitt Jones
S solo, SATB and organ
Oxford X545 £1.85
Malcolm Archer
SATB and organ
Oxford X554 £1.85
THE PROMISE OF PEACE (Two short carols) [E–M]
Ashley Grote
SATB with divisions
Encore Publications £1.95
Charles Villiers Stanford arr. Philip Moore
SATB and organ
Oxford X548 £1.85
Richard Lloyd
SATB with divisions
Novello NOV293579 £2.25
Here are six particularly beautiful carols, none of which is really difficult for SATB choirs. It is hard to write both simply and effectively, yet all these composers have done so as they set traditional words to newly composed, gentle and appealing melodies, expressing wonder at the birth of the Christ Child.
Thomas Hewitt Jones has written a haunting melody for What child is this?, accompanied by organ and set for SATB choir and soprano soloist. It appeared in Carols for Choirs 5, but is now reprinted separately. Malcolm Archer has composed an imaginative and unusual melody for the familiar Infant holy translation of a Polish carol: verse one is scored for sopranos accompanied by organ and verse two for SATB unaccompanied. Tenors, basses and altos have a little divisi, particularly effective at the end in the lush chords.
A tender shoot, the first of Ashley Grote’s two carols published under the overall title of The promise of peace, uses the familiar text by Goldschmidt, ideal for Advent. Unaccompanied and constructed in a similar way to Elizabeth Poston’s Jesus Christ the apple tree, with a unison soprano verse followed by SSAA verse 2, SATB verse 3 and a soprano unison, this is most effective. Watts’ cradle song is the second of his carols, and is absolutely beautiful – with lovely, warm Warlock-style harmonies, most effectively written for a four-part unaccompanied choir. The same Isaac Watts text replaces the words of Golden slumbers in Stanford’s song, masterfully arranged by Philip Moore. Previously available in a version for upper voices, this will now be welcomed by SATB choirs. Although dedicated to the choir of York Minster, other choirs that are able to feature a pure-toned descant line will enjoy this beautiful arrangement.
Christine Rossetti’s Love came down at Christmas is given a superb setting by Richard Lloyd for unaccompanied choirs that can summon eight parts. As in all the pieces reviewed in this section, although the notes are not difficult, a rewarding performance will depend on meticulous intonation.
Gordon Appleton


Malcolm Archer
SATB and organ
Oxford X534 £1.85
arr. Paul Trepte
SATB and organ
Encore Publications £2.95
Louis Halsey
Encore Publications £1.95
Alan Bullard
Oxford X537 £1.85
arr. Richard Lloyd
SATB and organ
Encore Publications £2.35
That master of melodic invention, Malcolm Archer, has set the 15th-century text of When Christ was born of Mary free with great ingenuity, mainly in 7/8 time with a lively organ accompaniment. This cheerful and imaginative setting does need singers and an organist with accurate rhythmic control – though it really is not that difficult! This carol will be particularly relished by school choirs and the young at heart.
Paul Trepte has cleverly arranged the ‘other’ tune to I saw three ships for SATB choir and organ. Although vocal parts are not difficult, this exuberant arrangement needs a confident and accurate organist. The last verse includes an optional part for the congregation/audience which would provide a great finale to a carol concert, and should guarantee a smile on everyone’s face.
Louis Halsey’s unaccompanied carol for the annunciation, Nova! Nova! (‘News! News! “Ave” is made from “Eva”’) is a great setting, probably inspired by medieval music. There is a variety of verse treatment, including SAA and TBB verses and a jolly chorus, all arranged superbly by an expert in effective choral writing.
The text of No rose of such virtue is familiar, but here with music composed most effectively by Alan Bullard for unaccompanied SSATB choir. Soli and tutti contrast in this gentle carol with spacious choral writing.
As the basis for The truth from above, Richard Lloyd has set the text of ‘This is the truth sent from above’ to a traditional English carol tune rather than the more familiar folk tune used by Ralph Vaughan Williams. As with other arrangements by Richard Lloyd, this is a masterful and effective setting for choir and organ, which may be used effectively in Advent and Christmas carol services. It could effectively replace Adam lay ybounden after the first lesson in traditional carol services.
All these carols are warmly commended.
Gordon Appleton


A NEW HEAVEN: 16 contemporary works for mixed voices [mostly D]
SATB with divisions, with and without keyboard
ed. Simon Halsey
Edition Peters EP 72475 £12.95
This volume appears to be an anthology of contemporary anthems available separately in the Faber Music and Edition Peters catalogues. Idioms range from Jonathan Harvey to Howard Goodall, from profound complexity to tuneful simplicity, taking in all manner of influences from jazz to ‘holy minimalism’. Everyone will have their favourites. I was particularly taken with the dancing Gloria from Jonathan Dove’s Missa Brevis and the slow-moving chords of Antony Pitts’s Adoro Te. Despite the inclusion of Goodall’s The Lord is my shepherd, the pieces are mostly difficult. Particularly valuable are Simon Halsey’s commentaries on each piece. The volume is certainly a good introduction to the diversity of church music being written at present by living British composers.

CLASSIC ANTHEMS for mixed-voice choirs [mostly M]
SATB with divisions, with and without keyboard
Novello NOV294371 £12.95
In a sense this is the opposite of the anthology described above. All from a single publisher’s catalogue, but in this case all the music is by composers long dead, and the pieces can well be described as ‘classic’. Many readers will know all the material here, and indeed many choirs will own all or most of it. Alphabetically from Adolphe Adam (O holy night! in John E. West’s arrangement) to S.S. Wesley (Ascribe unto the Lord and Blessed be the God and Father), via Attwood, Bainton, Brahms, Elgar, Balfour Gardiner, Hadley, Handel (a four-part version of the ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus) and on through the alphabet, this would be a very useful volume for a new church choir starting off with no music in its library, or a secular choir wanting to add some of the most popular church anthems to its repertoire via one publication, which with 246 pages is undoubtedly good value for money.
Stephen Patterson