This is a very intelligently planned selection of Christmas music, which focuses on the less well known, and bravo for that.
The two Howells Carol Anthems
are delightful pieces. How one wishes that they had recorded A spotless rose
– the middle of the three which is omitted here. John Tavener’s big anthem Fear and Rejoice, O People
is a wonderful piece, very evocative and full of surprises, not least the clever stepwise motion of the music. Each phrase ends with a lovely call of Alleluia. This is one of the best of Tavener’s shorter liturgical pieces, for it is not clogged with Orthodoxy, and it moves in a fast tempo. This latter is very welcome. His A Hymn to the Mother of God
, which ends this recital, is a deeply-felt, and simple, setting and it is perfectly placed here. It’s good to have two of Warlock’s carols in this collection for it is sometimes forgotten that he wrote quite a few choral works with a religious outlook – Benedicamus Domino
is a particularly jolly affair. It’s followed by Elizabeth Poston’s perfect Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
– one of those lessons in how less is more.
If he’s remembered at all Arthur Oldham’s name will forever be linked to the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, which he founded in 1965. But he studied composition at the Royal College with Howells, and after showing some scores to Britten became a frequent visitor to the older composer’s Suffolk home. Most of Oldham’s works are religious and Remember, O thou man
, which is heard here, is written in an accessible idiom and is, I imagine, very grateful to perform. It has a splendid dance–like episode in the middle.
The inclusion of two large works was a good idea, to balance so many miniatures. Górecki’s Totus tuus
is a big utterance, setting words in honour of the Virgin, and, very nicely, taking its time to unfold its meaning. This is superb.
The rest are small pieces but no less important for that fact. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
is probably John Gardner’s best known work. It’s a gorgeous rhythmic setting of old words and is a delight, as is Rutter’s There is a flower
. This man seems incapable of putting a bad note on paper, and this is a fine example of his splendid art. Vaughan Williams’s Wassail Song
is a tad on the slow side – I would expect more excitement and joviality when it comes to the wassail bowl! Milner’s Out of your sleep arise
is a respectable setting of these words but Richard Rodney Bennett did them a better service in his setting. I thought Geraint Lewis’s A little hymn to Mary
to be a real gem, and George Dyson’s Magnificat in F
is a gorgeous setting of the Evening Canticle with a prominent part for boy treble. Absolutely delightful.
This is a most enjoyable disk, with plenty of variety and fine performances. The sound is rather distant so you’ll need to turn the volume up but then there’s plenty of bloom to the recording, and a good feel of St John’s Chapel. Like another disk of Christmas music from Nimbus which I reviewed recently, this is a re–issue of an earlier disk. The booklet seems to have been reprinted directly from the original and some facts have not been checked, such as two of the composers heard here are no longer with us. It wouldn’t have taken much to put their correct dates in the booklet instead of just leaving the birthdate and nothing else. A small matter perhaps but a trifle slip-shod. Musically, this is splendid.