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The Spirit of Christmas Present
Ned ROREM (b.1923) Shout the Glad Tidings1 [0:46]
arr. Sir David WILLCOCKS (b.1919) O Come, All Ye Faithful2 [4:18]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) In dulci jubilo, BWV 7513 [1:54]
John GARDNER (b.1917) Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day2 [2:00]
Emile WALDTEUFEL (1837-1915) The Skater’s Waltz5 [9:05]
Leo SOWERBY (1895-1968) Love Came Down at Christmas1,4 [3:20]
arr. Edwin FISSINGER (1920-1990) I Saw Three Ships1 [1:50]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) In the Bleak Mid-Winter6 [4:20]
J.S. BACH Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 6453 [4:13]
arr. Sir D. WILLCOCKS The First Nowell2 [5:20]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Fantasia on ‘Greensleeves’7 [4:14]
arr. Kevin OLDHAM (1960-1993) ‘Silent Night’ from Three Carols, Op. 208 3:47
Howard BLAKE (b.1938) ‘Walking in the Air’ from The Snowman3 [3:37]
arr. D. WILLCOCKS Once in Royal David’s City2 [5:10]
Norman DELLO JOIO (1913-2008) The Holy Infant’s Lullaby1,4 [4:44]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) arr. D. WILLCOCKS Hark! The Herald Angels Sing2 [3.29]
Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy1
Huw Tregelles Williams (organ); BBC Welsh Chorus/John Hugh Thomas2
Kevin Bowyer (organ)3
James Higdon (organ)4
The Gulbenkian Orchestra/Michel Swierczewski5
Christ Church Cathedral Choir/Stephen Darlington6
English String Orchestra/William Boughton7
Pamela Williamson (soprano); Lyra Pringle Pherigo (flute); Welsey Kelly (harp)8
rec. July, 19941,4,8; August, 19953; May, 19876; (P) and (C) 1996. DDD.
NIMBUS NI7034 [62:07]

Experience Classicsonline

I’m not sure about the word ‘present’ in the title, except that it provides a Dickensian reference. I had expected it to indicate that all the music here was of recent provenance as, indeed, some of it is - the Rorem piece which opens the CD and the Snowman theme which comes near the end, for example - but there’s also plenty of traditional fare here. I’m far from sure that arrangements of these pieces by Sir David Willcocks count as ‘present’ - thankfully, he is still with us, but his arrangements of the likes of Once in Royal David’s City hardly update the music.

Nor does it seem to make much sense to have that Willcocks arrangement as one of the last three pieces on the CD when it’s sung here as it is in procession at Sir David’s old establishment, King’s College Cambridge, on Christmas Eve with the solo choirboy and then the choir sounding ever nearer, as if in procession - at least, I think that’s the idea; it doesn’t quite come off. The BBC Welsh Choir make a good fist of this, as they do of the other items in which they appear, but they’re not quite up to the standard of King’s. I quailed when I saw the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Welsh Guards credited with an appearance on this track, fearing an onset of bad taste but, in the event, their participation is blessedly muted.

Norman dello Joio’s Holy Infant’s Lullaby is one of the few pieces on this CD with which I was not previously acquainted. It’s a beautiful and reflective piece and it’s appropriately and tastefully performed by the Kansas City Chorale. To return from it to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing for the final track shattered the magic somewhat, especially with those Fanfare Trumpeters in action again, this time more prominently.

Of the other ‘new’ music here, Ned Rorem’s Shout the Glad Tidings, which opens the CD, is attractive but all too short, at just 46 seconds, and the mood is spoiled by the next track, O Come, All Ye Faithful. John Gardner’s Tomorrow will be my dancing day will be familiar to devotees of King’s Nine Lessons and Carols. As with Once in Royal David’s City, the Welsh performers rival, without equalling, a King’s performance.

Leo Sowerby’s Love came down at Christmas, too, and Kevin Oldham’s arrangement of Silent Night offer attractive music, well performed and recorded. These recent compositions, together with Kevin Bowyer’s organ performances, the latter ranging from Bach to a delightful rendition of The Snowman, make the CD more worthwhile, but you may prefer to purchase these on their parent recordings (see below). I liked the Bowyer items enough to request a review copy of the parent CD.

I’m not sure what Waldteufel’s Skater’s Waltz is doing here other than to remind us that it’s an attractive piece and that its composer is somewhat unjustly unfashionable at the moment. It receives a stylish if rather understated performance from the Gulbenkian Orchestra, but you might prefer to buy the parent CD from which this one item is taken - 74 minutes of Waldteufel’s music on Nimbus NI5264. Nor am I sure what the point of including the Fantasia on Greensleeves is - again, if you want the decent performance by the English String Orchestra and Kevin Boughton, you’d be likely to go for the parent CD (NI1754, a 4-CD set) and, even so, there are more recommendable VW collections on the market.

Almost all of the music here is excerpted from four other Nimbus recordings:
Nativitas - American Christmas Carols (NI5413, Kansas City Chorale);
Celebration - Christmas Fanfares and Carols (NI5310);
Christmas Music by Holst and Walton (NI7021, Christ Church Cathedral);
Christmas Organ Music (NI7711, Kevin Bowyer)

Nimbus usually include a decent set of notes, but there are none here, merely the flimsy four-page fold that comes with some magazine cover-mount CDs and some super-budget offerings.

After completing this review, I discovered that Christopher Thomas had reviewed this CD last year and had come to much the same conclusion as myself: “the fact remains that there are far superior Christmas discs to be had... this is not a CD that is likely to find its way to the top of many Christmas shopping lists.” (See review)

You could do better, even from within Nimbus’s own catalogue.

Brian Wilson 

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