Choral Music, September 2017

CHRISTMAS MUSIC WITH ACCOMPANIMENT

THERE IS A FLOW’R [E/M]
Malcolm Archer
SS and organ
Oxford W198 £1.95
A VIRGIN MOST PURE [M]
Malcolm Archer
SATB and organ
Oxford W674 £1.95
Malcolm Archer has a gift for writing lovely, singable melodies, apparent in both these arrangements. There is a flow’r is a gentle and delightful carol with organ accompaniment, written for two equal soprano voices, in which the six short verses of the text of the medieval carol (suitable for the Annunciation or Christmas) receive varied musical treatment.
His setting of A virgin most pure is great fun! The melody is in the style of a carol but given extra quirkiness by being set in 5/8 time. There is a little division in one verse. As long as performers can keep a steady five in the bar, this should be a highlight of the season.

HODIE! [M]
Alexander L’Estrange
SA and organ
Faber Music 978-0-571-57206-9 £3.99
A STAR AS BRIGHT AS DAY [M/D]
Alan Bullard
SATB and organ
Oxford X686 £1.95
THE BLASTS OF CHILL DECEMBER [M/D]
James Bassi
SATB and piano
Oxford X677 £2.25
These three pieces create atmosphere: they are mini tone poems, rather than carol arrangements. For competent SA choirs with a skilled organist, Alexander L’Estrange’s Hodie! is well worth considering. A gentle middle section is sandwiched between fanfare-like first and last sections, accompanied by a jazzy and lively organ accompaniment. The text sets in Latin the traditional Christmas antiphon ‘Hodie Christus natus est’ and would be an arresting opener for a Christmas concert.
In a short space of 82 bars, Alan Bullard’s A Star as Bright as Day contrasts exuberant dissonant motifs expressing joy at the birth of Jesus with gentle dreamy sections of a lullaby and prayer of Mary. In the space of a few bars we go from fff to ppp with plenty of changes of tempo.
James Bassi has written The blasts of chill December, an atmospheric piece in compound time with mostly straightforward, carol-like chorus parts. Much of the effect of the performance relies on the idiomatic piano accompaniment which needs a first-rate pianist. The text is unlikely to find favour in countries experiencing hot Decembers.

ADESTE FIDELES [E]
arr. Vincent Novello
SATB and organ
Church Music Society CMSR 139 £2.25
Somewhat of a curiosity, this early 19th-century arrangement sets four verses of the Latin text of the Christmas hymn ‘O come, all ye faithful’, with verses treated as solo, tenor and bass duet, ATB trio and SATB quartet. Full choir sings the refrains and there is some variety in organ accompaniment, decorated in 18th-century style.
Gordon Appleton

A TENDER SHOOT [M]
Thomas Hewitt Jones
SATB and organ
Encore Publications £2.50
This is a skilfully constructed carol, written for Worcester Cathedral this year and deserving to be widely performed (although it really needs a resonant acoustic to make its full effect). After a mood-setting organ introduction, the first verse is given to a solo voice or small group of singers. The rising patterns of intervals seem to be searching for a definitive version that comes at the start of verse 2 with a memorable tune sung in two canonic parts (any combination of voices on each part). SATB waits for verse 3, a cappella until the organ makes a striking entry for ‘it blooms …’. All three verses end ‘turning our darkness into light’, with a diminuendo on the final two words and a beautifully calculated chord on ‘light’.
Julian Elloway

UNACCOMPANIED CHRISTMAS MUSIC

I SAW THREE SHIPS [M]
George Arthur
SATB
Universal Edition UE 21717 £2.75
George Arthur has composed a new and catchy tune for ‘I saw three ships’. Written in varying metres but generally in 7/8, this arrangement needs light, crisp singing and unanimity in changes of tempo. For those choirs who master it, this is an enjoyable romp which will bring smiles to the faces of both singers and audience.

COMES THE LIGHT [E/M]
Ann Burgess
SATB
Banks Music BMP014 £1.95
This is the worthy winner of the 2015 BBC Radio 3 Carol Competition. The composer’s inspiration is apparently the Northumbrian pipes, playing a melody reminiscent of the sort of folk song that may have inspired Ralph Vaughan Williams. This contrasts with a recurring chorale-like refrain. Written for four parts, with soprano and tenor solos, the music creates a mood of wonder which enhances the poetry of Roger McGough.

ADAM LAY IBOUNDEN [E]
Andrew Cusworth
SAB
Novello NOV295911 £1.75
This short setting of a well-known text is only 34 bars long but is nevertheless an attractive piece for choirs of sopranos, altos and baritones. Each voice is allocated the tune, which provides an effective setting appropriate to sing after the traditional first lesson at a service of Nine Lessons and Carols.

STAR OF THE EAST [E/M]
CHRIST’S NATIVITY [E/M]
CHILD JESUS, SO DEAR [E/M]
Russell Hepplewhite
SATB
Banks Music Publications GCL021, 022 and 023
£1.95 each
These three pieces, although published individually, would make a reflective group at a concert, or could be sung separately. The words are well chosen from interesting sources, and set to music effectively in a haunting yet somewhat minimalist style. In four voice parts and with no divisions, they can be performed by a solo quartet, as indeed can be heard in these three pieces on YouTube.

MARY’S CHILD [E/M]
Bob Chilcott
SATB with optional flute
Oxford BC209 £1.95
THE BIRD OF DAWNING [M]
Bob Chilcott
SATB with divisions
Oxford BC213 £1.95
TRYSTE NOEL [M/D]
Alan Smith
SATBB
Oxford X670 £2.25
I AM CHANGED [M/D]
Will Todd
SATB with divisions
Oxford X685 £1.95
IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER [D]
Paul Mealor
SATB with divisions
Novello NOV296626 £2.75
These pieces are all unaccompanied, gentle and dreamy with rich harmony. As one expects, Bob Chilcott has composed two attractive and accessible pieces that choirs will enjoy. The most straightforward, Mary’s Child, is enhanced by the addition of an optional solo flute. Its folk-song-like melody is simply harmonized and matches the lovely poetry of Norman Nicholson. Shakespeare’s Hamlet provides the text of The Bird of Dawning, set with soprano solo and divisions in each voice part.
Reflecting on the part played by animals in the Nativity is Tryste Noel, a poem by Louise Guiney set sensitively to music by Alan Smith. This will be effective when sung by competent choirs.
Although advertised as SATB, each section of the choir must divide in Will Todd’s attractive new piece I am Changed. He has written the words as well as the music. If you do not find the key signature of six flats off-putting, you will discover a beautiful setting.
Paul Mealor’s lovely setting of In the Bleak Midwinter demands excellent tuning. To create such rich harmony, each section of the choir divides – the bass line into three in addition to a baritone solo. The range of each voice part is substantial from a top B for sopranos to a low E (and optional B) below the stave for basses. Despite the demands of range and intonation, choirs who master this piece will be rewarded. This is a beautiful addition to the Christmas repertoire.

BEHOLD A TENDER BABE [D]
Paul Mealor
SATB with divisions
Novello NOV295350 £2.25
No less difficult, but also no less rewarding, is Paul Mealor’s Behold a tender babe, written a year earlier. But it is carefully written so that the difficulties are manageable. The two places where sopranos have a top C are the only points where sopranos divide, so only the first sopranos ascend there. The music follows the details of the words, with drama at ‘do homage to thy King’ and then falling away most beautifully to ‘behold a babe’.
Julian Elloway