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O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM. CHRISTMAS MUSIC AND CAROLS
Henry J. GAUNTLETT
(1805-76): Once in Royal David's City (descant D. Willcocks)
Lennox BERKELEY
(1903-89): I sing of a Maiden
Anton BRUCKNER
(1824-96): Virga Jesse
Herbert HOWELLS
(1892-1983)
John IRELAND
(1879-1962): The Holy Boy*
Francis POULENC
(1899-1963): Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel
Tomas Luis de VICTORIA
(1548-1611): O Magnum Mysterium
Kenneth LEIGHTON
(1929-88): Coventry Carol
Trad. arr Reginald JACQUES
: Away in a Manger
Giovanni Pierluigi de PALESTRINA
(1525-94): Hodie Christus Natus Est
Pierre VILLETTE
(1926-98): O Magnum Mysterium
Eugene GIGOUT
(1844-1925): Rhapsodie sur des Noels*
Arr. D WILLCOCKS
: Unto us is Born a Son
Peter CORNELIUS
(1824-74) arr. Ivor Atkins: The Three Kings**
Harold DARKE
(1888-1976): In the Bleak Midwinter***
Peter WARLOCK
(1894-1930): Bethlehem Down
Arr. D. WILLCOCKS
: O Come, All Ye Faithful

Choir of Lincoln College, Oxford
*Philip Smith and ***Christopher Eastwood (organ)
Conducted by Tom Lydon and **Christopher Eastwood
Recorded in Exeter College, Oxford in March, 2001
GUILD GMCD 7226
[74.40]

And still they come! The latest choir to add a Christmas recital to this ever-expanding section of the catalogue is that of Lincoln College, Oxford. The choir consists of 22 singers and like so many other Oxbridge choirs these days it mixes male and female voices - but unlike some rival choirs the alto line is entirely female.

Recorded in the chapel of another Oxford college, these fresh young voices produce a very nice sound. However, I was not sure the choir was properly balanced. At times the tenors seemed just a little too prominent. More seriously, as the recital progressed I came to feel that by a fraction the soprano line was just not quite strong enough. This may be due to a lack of numbers (there are seven sopranos listed) or perhaps a better internal balance is required. That the choir includes some capable singers is evident from the pleasing solo contributions to several items. The soprano soloists make particularly attractive sounds though I'm sorry to report that the Director, Tom Lydon sounds strained in the solo part in Cornelius' 'Three Kings'.

Generally the programme is attractive and the inclusion of organ solos by Ireland and Gigout, well played by Philip Smith, is welcome. I was delighted to find included Pierre Villette's atmospheric setting of 'O Magnum Mysterium' (which receives a very good performance). There is more French music in the shape of Poulenc's exquisite motets, though my impression was that these taxing pieces took the singers to their limits.

However, I felt some of the other choices in the programme were less enterprising. I love Howells' 'A Spotless Rose' but is it not over-exposed nowadays? Similarly, I would have welcomed hearing something a little less familiar as alternatives to the Darke and Cornelius items.

In summary, this is a generally enjoyable release. However, it enters a crowded and highly competitive field and in the last analysis I believe it lacks that extra ounce of distinction which would make it a leading recommendation.

John Quinn


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