MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Buy through MusicWeb for £12 postage paid World-wide.

Musicweb Purchase button


Nativitas - American Christmas Carols
Conrad SUSA (b. 1935)
Three Mystical Carols [11:40]
John CARTER (b. 1930)
In Time of Softest Snow [3:18]
Ned ROREM (b. 1923)
Shout the Glad Tidings [0:47]
arr. Mark JOHNSON
Silent Night [5:17]
Jean BELMONT (b. 1939)
Leo SOWERBY (1895 - 1968)
Love Came Down at Christmas [3:20]
Charles IVES (1874 - 1954)
A Christmas Carol [2:01]
Arnold FREED (b. 1926)
Three Shepherd Carols [6:06]
Norman DELLO JOIO (1913 - 2008)
The Holy Infant's Lullaby [4:47]
Joel MARTINSON (b.1960)
There is No Rose [3:27]
arr. Edwin FISSINGER (b.1920)
I Saw Three Ships [1:51]
Henry COWELL (1897 - 1965)
Sweet Was the Song the Virgin Sung [2:41]
arr. Kevin OLDHAM (1960 - 1993)
Silent Night from Three Carols, Op 20 [3:46]
James Higdon (organ); Pamela Williamson (soprano solo); Lyra Pringle Pherigo (flute); Wesley Kelly (harp); Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy
rec. All Saints Lutheran Church, Kansas City, Kansas, 7-10 July 1994
NIMBUS NI5413 [67:03]

Experience Classicsonline

Once in a while a disc arrives that you stop “reviewing” and instead listen to for pure unalloyed pleasure. This is one such disc - I cannot underline enough what a box of delights it has proven to be. The CD seems to be a straight re-issue of a disc from the early 1990s. Whether it has been in and out of the catalogue I do not know and to my enduring loss it has passed me by until now. Hanging my head in shame I guess that the idea of “American Carols” sung by the Kansas City Chorale had me leaping to unfounded assumptions of it resulting in an album of saccharine cuteness. Nothing could be further from the truth - this is a superbly sung disc of extraordinary beauty and packed full of musical discoveries. Every detail of this recording oozes care and thoughtfulness. Many of the composers have links to the city of Kansas and the sequencing of the carols makes for a programme that is as satisfying in the unity and over-arching vision it provides as the individual delights of each track. 
At the time of recording in 1994 twenty of the twenty-four tracks were world premiere recordings. But do not think for an instant that this means we are treated to either carols of intractable complexity or post-modern blandness. These are settings of instant power, worth, appeal and beauty. Many of the composers were previously unknown to me but it is to their huge credit that the contributions of say Conrad Susa and especially Jean Belmont sit in the company of Charles Ives and Henry Cowell so comfortably.

The moods and chosen musical styles of the carols vary greatly but I do come away from this with an abiding sense of the reflective and meditative. The central panel of Conrad Susa triptych Three Mystical Carols - This Endrys Night carries the emotional weight of these settings and Susa’s setting is as austerely beautiful as the 15th century text he sets. At the heart of the disc lies Jean Belmont’s Nativitas. Her description of this seven song cycle which gives the disc its title is worth quoting because it holds true for her work and the disc as a whole: “The intent in Nativitas is to create a musical shape which conveys some of the anticipation, reverence, mysticism, and celebration surrounding the Birth of Jesus Christ”. I cannot think of another sequence of carols that marks this spiritual journey quite so powerfully. She uses a variety of compositional effects but the abiding style is a neo-medieval one - so described in David Wright’s quite excellent liner-notes - that has echoes of Vaughan Williams’ fusion of ancient and modern in his Mass in G minor. The effect there, as here, is to create a musical message that seems to transcend time and space. There is an emotional momentum that builds through this sequence too that means that by the final Noe, Noe, psallite noe (tr. 14) the release on the words “Rejoice Jerusalem for the Saviour is born” is disarmingly powerful.

But this is to have passed over the carol that immediately preceded the cycle. Can it be possible to shed any new light on Silent Night? When the arranger is Mark Johnson the answer is a resounding yes. Before I even arrived at the Belmont cycle I had repeated Silent Night three times! As I write this I can still hear the arrangement in my head. The task facing any arranger of any style is how to “add” to an existing piece without distorting the message of the original. Johnson’s solution - brilliant in its simplicity (and part of the brilliance is to acknowledge the inherent simplicity of the original) - is to write the first and third verses in two parts only. The first verse is for the women’s voices - meltingly pure and true here - with the unchanged original melody in the alto line with a descant above. We all have favourite descants for various carols but here we get a sinuous melismatic line that one moment floats above, the next intertwines lovingly and finally harmonises exquisitely the original. I find this totally heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The central verse is more traditionally harmonised in four parts before the final verse reverts to two parts but this time for the men. It feels like a journey from the heavenly angelic voices of the start to the more earthy celebration of the men at the end. So much is achieved with such basic resources - five minutes of perfection.

And so it proves with the whole programme; Sowerby’s Love Came Down at Christmas providing a lush rich setting to follow on from the meditations by Belmont. Ives’ A Christmas Carol is almost disconcertingly normal but beautiful all the same. Arnold Freed’s Three Shepherd Carols are more akin to John Rutter, sympathetically written for a trained choir but clearly a pleasure to sing - perhaps less profound than some of the settings here but again that simply reflects the skill in the programming permitting some relaxation in the spirit of the disc. The organ makes one of its relatively rare contributions to Dello Joio’s The Holy Infant’s Lullaby. Again, simplicity of utterance and extraordinary lyrical beauty are much in evidence - another gem. And so it continues with the remainder of the programme, each item a delight. As a very poignant appendix the programme closes with another setting of Silent Night. This time it is by Kevin Oldham. Oldham - a native of Kansas City died at the age of 33 the year before this recording was made and, although it does not say as much anywhere, I suspect this setting for solo soprano, flute and harp was added as some kind of memorial. Again, it is the simplicity that resonates so strongly in the memory. This time the flute discreetly carries the original tune with soprano spinning a tender counter-melody of silvery beauty over a gently rippling harp accompaniment. Pure genius.

The Kansas City Chorale is simply glorious. They consist of six voices per line in the standard SATB format. Their intonation, attack, ensemble, vocal blending and all-round precision is flawless. Yet over and above all these qualities there is an inherent musicality, a rightness to their phrasing that lifts this beyond the merely good into the superlative - all credit to their conductor Charles Bruffy. Praise to the production team too. This is a beautifully engineered disc - yes there is a little traffic noise audible over good quality headphones but nowhere near enough to disturb the rapt atmosphere the choir creates. The few organ contributions are beautifully played and the organ is well integrated into the sound-stage - full and dynamic without being overpowering. This is a disc that deserves to be listened to all year round and not ghettoised into December alone! Good value too at only a couple of minutes shy of seventy. Easily the best all round choral disc of “music for the festive season” that I have heard in years.

One last observation - whoever is responsible for supervising re-releases at Nimbus and Wyastone Estate at the moment is doing quite a job. Just recently I have heard this disc, another choral disc of Walton and Holst, the magnificent Copland re-issues licensed from MusicMasters and we are forever indebted for their over-seeing the re-birth of Lyrita. Whoever you are thank you and more please!

As beautiful a disc of precious Christmas music as you are likely to hear this or any year.

Nick Barnard 

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.