FULL OF JOY, IN SWEET ACCORD [E]
Unison voices and organ
Banks Music Publications ECS 578 £1.50
The words are translated from a Latin sequence, Laetabundus, but Simon Mold has composed his own attractive melody with the feel and shape of a plainsong Kyrie, although each verse builds to an Alleluia climax. Unison throughout (with an optional three parts for the final two chords) and underpinned by a supportive organ part, this is as musically satisfying as it is easy to perform.
LITTLE BABY BORN AT DARK MIDNIGHT [E/M]
arr. John Bertalot
Unison voices (with optional descant) and piano ECS 569
(or SATB unaccompanied ECS 568)
Banks Music Publications £1.75 each
SING NOEL [E/M]
Unison voices and piano ECS 572
(or SATB unaccompanied ECS 570)
Banks Music Publication £1.75 (or £1.95)
Although there are unison and SATB versions for both pieces, one version is not an arrangement of the other. Not only do the unison versions have piano introductions and links, but the harmonies are reimagined so as to produce idiomatic parts for piano or ATB respectively – and very successful they are, with plenty of interest in all parts. Each was written for one of John Bertalot’s godchildren (biographical information included), and the composer has written appropriate lyrics for each. The music, dating from the late 1970s and early 1980s, has jolly syncopations that bounce along in Sing Noel, contrasting with an affective Appalachian folk-song melody used for Little baby born at dark midnight.
TOMORROW SHALL BE MY DANCING DAY [E/M]
SSA and piano
Oxford BC177 £2.20
MY LORD HAS COME [M]
Oxford W185 £2.60
Bob Chilcott’s Tomorrow shall be my dancing day is not an arrangement of the traditional carol but an original composition with dancing syncopations that remind one of John Gardner’s setting – coupled with Chilcott’s musical inventiveness, especially in some of the lesser-known verses. The characterization of verse 3 ‘Into the desert’, verse 4 ‘Then down to hell’ and verse 5 ‘Then up to heaven’ will delight a carol-service congregation.
Will Todd’s My Lord has come is an intense and, in some ways, demanding piece with second altos repeatedly singing bottom F sharps (in one place optionally bottom E). Yet it is also highly singable, with harmonies that are easy to hear in advance and well-shaped vocal lines. The words are by the composer, describing the shepherds called by love and sages searching for love, but as a fortissimo climax ‘his love will hold me’ because, in the words of the title that are also a refrain, ‘My Lord has come.’
James L. Montgomery
CRADLE LULLABY [E]
2-part upper voices (and solo) and piano
Novello NOV165363 £2.25
AWAY IN A MANGER [E/M]
2-part upper voices (and solo) and piano
Novello NOV295152 £1.75
A superficial glance, including at the six flats in the key signature of Cradle Lullaby, may remind one of John Rutter, but Owain Park, still in his early twenties, has a musical voice of his own (more Chilcott than Rutter). Cradle Lullaby has very easy choral lines but needs a solo voice floating an effortless top A flat in a third vocal part during the final 16 bars. Although a secular cradle song, I can see this sung as an alternative to a choir version of Away in a manger in a crib or carol service.
Park’s own setting of Away in a manger is a contrast, with a strong melody characterized by fourths and fifths. Those same intervals provide the basis of the accompanying chords into which thirds are introduced sparingly, until a quaver pattern announces ‘I love thee, Lord Jesus’. Here there are parallel sixths in the two vocal lines and a warmth comes into the music as the words change from description to a personal statement of relationship with Jesus. The third verse is a canon, only in two parts, but as if each singer is asking Jesus to ‘be near me’. This is a simple but carefully and skilfully composed piece that encourages the listener to identify freshly with the oft-heard words.
MIXED-VOICE CAROLS FOR ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS
Novello NOV295284 £1.75
SATB and organ
Novello NOV293315 £2.25
They have the same title and same refrain, eia (or eya) susanni, but otherwise these two settings have little in common. Corp sets Percy Dearmer’s familiar version of ‘A little child there is y-born’ in a simple, strophic form with constant 6/8 time and the feel of a carol. Performers may want to add some subtlety of dynamics to the four verses marked mf followed by a final f verse. Grayston Ives uses Martin Luther’s ‘From heaven high, O angels come’ (with the susanni refrain) and derives musical material from the associated Von Himmel hoch chorale melody, most clearly quoted fortissimo in an energetic 7/8 rhythm. The music of heaven (mostly quiet and in 2/4) contrasts with the praise of ‘men on earth’ (often loud and in 7/8). I particularly enjoyed the final carefully paced diminuendo and hushed ending.
DORMI JESU [E/M]
SATB with divisions
Banks Music Publications ECS 584 £1.50
MY JESU, SLEEP [E/M]
SATB, S and T soli
Novello NOV295229 £2.25
You need divided altos and tenors for Antony Baldwin’s otherwise easy setting of Dormi Jesu – known in English as ‘The Virgin’s Cradle Hymn’ (it is a pity that there was not space in the publication for Coleridge’s English translation). There is much to enjoy, from the gently pulsating rhythm of the introduction, through a melody that will stay in the memory long after the piece has finished, to a final ‘Howells-y’ cadence. Strongly recommended.
A very different Christmas lullaby, also for unaccompanied mixed voices, is by Adam Harvey. Setting Bramley’s translation from Latin, ‘The Virgin stills the crying’, Harvey’s 6/8 melody has the feel of a traditional carol. I particularly liked the first and last verses (musically identical) but was less convinced by the middle two verses with solo lines accompanied by humming until their refrains which are the same in all four verses. A little unimaginative perhaps, but easy to perform and a good choice if you want to showcase a tenor and a soprano voice at Christmas.
GOD IS BORN AMONG US [E/M]
ANGELS TELL THE CHRISTMAS STORY [E]
SATB and organ
Oxford X583 £2.20 and X553 £1.75
There are similar musical techniques in both these attractive carols, with alternating compound-time and duple-time metres, verses alternating between upper and lower voices, catchy refrains and spirited, sparkling organ parts that enliven the texture and also support the vocal lines. There is a small amount of divisi writing in God is born among us, a translation by Andrew Pratt of a Polish carol. Angels tell the Christmas story, with words by the composer and every line ending ‘in excelsis gloria’, is more straightforward but no less effective.
THE CHRISTMAS BELLS [E/M]
ON CHRISTMAS MORN [E/M]
WHERE IS THE CHILD? [M]
Thomas Hewitt Jones
SATB and piano (or organ)
Banks GCL 011, 013 and 015 £1.95 each
The Christmas bells, with words and music by the composer, and accompaniment for piano rather than organ, is a jubilant celebration with a ‘Hey diddle hey diddle diddle O’ after the first two lines of each verse and a feeling best characterized by the instruction at one point of ‘With a hint of mischief’ – a direction that perhaps needs to be given with care to church choristers. A solo soprano sings a descant in the last verse. On Christmas morn and Where is the child? both have words by Paul Williamson, have accompaniments more suitable for organ, and are altogether more serious pieces – anthems to be sung at Christmas rather than carols. Both have last verse descants in addition to the SATB texture, and Where is the child? appears conceived for a large choir with its fff climax. On Christmas morn is more expressive, in F major until a lush (the composer’s word) and romantic move to F sharp major for a conclusion that describes the ‘hallowed mystery’ when the holy child is born.
GOD REST YE MERRY, GENTLEMEN [M/D]
arr. Mårten Jansson
SATB with divisions
Bärenreiter BA 7419 £3.50
‘SATB with divisions’ indeed – in fact at the end the basses divide into four parts, although the composer kindly marks the top and bottom parts ‘if possible’, as the bottom bass descends to a C below the stave. This arrangement is a welcome change from the ‘standard’ choir settings of this carol, from a Swedish composer presumably approaching tune and words from outside the English carol tradition. Surprisingly the tune is kept in the alto part throughout (in canon with the basses in the last verse) but the other voices spring delightful surprises – it is an imaginative treatment that I hope to hear in performance.
James L. Montgomery
WITH SAINTLY SHOUT AND SOLEMN JUBILEE [E–M/D]
Andrew Reid, Peter Moger and Tim Ruffer
RSCM S0170 £6.50 (affiliates £4.88)
This is another versatile publication for choral festivals, services celebrating any particular saint, and of course, the feast of All Saints itself. As with last year’s Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, the book is arranged in the form of a Festival Service of the Word, but with an additional suggested order of service for choral evensong, using materials from the main part of the book and also from the 16 pages of ‘additional choral resources’, generously provided at the end of the 144-page volume.
The music includes introits by Sally Beamish, James MacMillan and Tomás Luis da Victoria, Kyries by Jonathan Dove, Charles Wood and from the Taizé Community, and songs by Paul Oakley and the combination of Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. Other composers represented include William Harris, Basil Harwood, Grayston Ives (an anthem specially written for this book), Philip Moore, Richard Shephard, Stanford, Philip Wilby and Charles Wood.
Andrew Reid has written an organ accompaniment to the Jesu, corona virginum plainsong that is used for ‘The call to holiness is ours’ – the office hymn for ‘Holy Men and Women’ in Hymns for Prayer & Praise – which in this book is given as an alternative to John Bell and Graham Maule’s ‘For all the saints who showed your love’. In fact, alternative settings abound: Anglican chant or responsorial chant; Benedictus in C by Stanford or a splendid responsorial ‘Thanksgiving for the Holy Ones of God’ (a Litany of the Saints); anthems by William Harris (‘Holy is the true light’) or by Philip Moore (words by Bonhoeffer). The range of difficulty extends from those two anthems and Sally Beamish’s Gaudent in Coelis, which some choirs will find moderately difficult, to Richard Shephard’s ‘Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for Parish Choirs’, which is easier! The ‘saints’ here are all those in whom the Church has particularly recognized God at work – and this volume reflects that diversity.
ON CHRISTMAS NIGHT [E/M–D]
32 carols and anthems for choirs
SATB with or without keyboard
Edition Peters EP 72694 £14.95
This collection of 32 choral pieces that Peters Edition have published separately over the past 20 or so years is excellent value for money: 250 pages for £14.95. However, the only unifying feature (apart from a nativity theme) is that all the composers are alive. Presentation varies, with most of the a cappella pieces on separate staves, sometimes with and sometimes without keyboard reductions. Several of the pieces are only likely to be sung by the most accomplished church or cathedral choirs or professional chamber choirs, but there are also pieces such as Stephen Cleobury’s Love came down at Christmas that is well within the Carols for Choirs tradition, as are settings of the Coventry Carol by Doug Andrews and Barnaby Smith. The 25 composers also include Judith Bingham, Jonathan Dove, Francis Pott, Ben Parry, Roxanna Panufnik and James Burton, whose On Christmas Night gives the title to the collection – not an arrangement of the carol that you might expect but a piece with words and music by Burton that cleverly incorporates Nicolai’s chorale ‘How brightly shines the morning star’ in the manner of a 21st-century Peter Cornelius. Few church choirs will want a complete set of copies of the anthology, but all the pieces are available separately and I would strongly recommend choir directors to buy a single copy and then order those pieces most suitable for them.