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Joy In The Morning
Alec ROTH (b. 1948) Unborn: A Processional Introit [5:07]
Trad. Irish Wexford Carol [2:24]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) In the bleak midwinter [5:16]
John GARDNER (b. 1917) The holly and the ivy [2:13]
John JOUBERT (b. 1927) Joy in the morning [4:25]
John GARDNER Tomorrow shall be my dancing day [1:59]
Harold DARKE (1888-1976) In the bleak midwinter [5:09]
Naji HAKIM (b. 1955) Noël! [3:28]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988) A Christmas Caroll [7:40]
Tomás PASCUAL (1595-1635) ¡Oy es dia de placer y de cantar! [1:42]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) For he shall give his angels [2:44]
Giovanni GABRIELI (c1555 -1612) O magnum mysterium [4:37]
Felix MENDELSSOHN When Jesus, our Lord [2:11]
Felix MENDELSSOHN There shall be a star [4:58]
Benjamin BRITTEN This little Babe [1:31]
Alec ROTH Epilogue: Child of son [2:53]
Trad. Scottish arr. Peter HUNT O horo eeree caidil gu Lō [2:55]
Franz GRÜBER (1787-1863) Stille Nacht [3:49]
Martin BATES (b. 1951) Three Songs for Christmas [5:53]
Trad. Lapland Ole leloila [0:58]
Trad. English arr David WILLCOCKS (b. 1919) Sussex Carol [1:43]
Trad. arr, Jeffrey SKIDMORE (b. 1951) Jubilate [1:55]
Ex Cathedra/Jeffrey Skidmore
Andrew Fletcher (organ)
rec. 10-11 July 2009, St Paul’s Church, Birmingham. DDD
Original texts and English translations included
Experience Classicsonline

It was with a Christmas disc that I reviewed six years ago that I first encountered the fine Birmingham-based choir, Ex Cathedra and their instrumentalist colleagues. Since then I’ve reviewed several of their discs and concerts and it’s a great pleasure to welcome this new Christmas CD.

The programme is wide-ranging and full of interest. There are some familiar items dotted around the place - one is glad to see Sir David Willcocks’ splendid arrangement of the Sussex Carol in this, his ninetieth birthday year. Harold Darke’s little classic puts in an equally welcome appearance and receives an expressive and polished performance. It’s interesting to set this beside Britten’s response to the same Rosetti text, but combined, in his case, with the ‘Corpus Christi Carol’. In fact both the Britten items come from important larger Christmas works: ‘In the bleak midwinter’ is part of A Boy was Born, while ‘This little Babe’, here given a pulsating performance, is from his Ceremony of Carols.

Many will be familiar with John Gardner’s jaunty Tomorrow shall be my dancing day; but how many know his setting for high voices of The holly and the ivy? I didn’t, and it’s a delight. Gardner provides a perky tune and the ladies choir eventually separates into several parts as the setting unfolds.

Among other pleasures is an ardent, committed performance of Kenneth Leighton’s masterly setting of Herrick’s celebrated lines, ‘What sweeter music’. I’d heard Naji Hakim’s carol before but it’s good to hear it again with its lovely warm French harmonies

Music from earlier times is well represented also. In his bi-centenary year Mendelssohn gets more than a look-in. I must say I wouldn’t have associated ‘For he shall give his angels’ (Elijah) with Christmas but it’s good to hear it so expertly done as here by members of the Ex Cathedra Consort. The other two pieces come from his unfinished oratorio, Christus. These are much more obviously seasonal offerings though I have to say the music doesn’t seem to me to be at anywhere near the same level of invention as ‘For he shall give his angels’.

Going back further still in time Gabrieli’s O magnum mysterium is splendidly sonorous, the singing richly underpinned by sackbuts. The traditional Irish and Scots pieces are hauntingly beautiful, especially the latter item. Ex Cathedra’s exploration of music from the Latin America of the Conquistadores has won plaudits in recent years and the piece by Pascual, from seventeenth century Mexico, is another fine example of the genre. It’s an ebullient, dancing piece of music and Jeffrey Skidmore seasons the mix with a judicious amount of percussion.

The recital takes its name from the setting by John Joubert, a composer whose music Ex Cathedra has championed over the years. This is a setting of words from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Primarily it’s an extrovert and joyful piece and I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed equally Jeffrey Skidmore’s own arrangement, Jubilate, with which the programme concludes. However, beyond saying that it’s both ingenious and entertaining I’m not going to say anything more for fear of spoiling the surprise.

The standard both of singing and playing is absolutely first rate throughout the programme. Factor in excellent recorded sound and documentation and you have a most enjoyable and enterprising Christmas offering from Ex Cathedra. The Christmas CD market is overflowing but this issue has a very strong claim indeed on the attention of collectors.

John Quinn

see also review by William Hedley 



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