Too late for this Christmas,
certainly, but here is a disc to mark down for next year, especially
if you are a music director looking to broaden your repertoire.
A generously-timed programme
is introduced somewhat misleadingly as ‘a collection of new
popular carols for Christmas sung in the cathedral choral tradition.’
New most of them are, and many deserve to become popular, but
‘new’ and ‘popular’ are surely contradictions in terms. Nor
are they exactly typical of the ‘cathedral choral tradition’:
since when did the piano play such a prominent accompanying
role in a cathedral? Personally, I find the piano an unsatisfactory
substitute for the organ in choral music, and here it is particularly
dull, as in One cold dark night (sample 1).
Moreover, when the organ is used, it is far too reticent. And
one will listen in vain for the spacious, soaring Anglican ‘cathedral
sound’. This is not the fault of the performers, but Christ
Church is one of the country’s smallest cathedrals and some
adjustment should have been made to compensate for its dead
acoustic. Finally, I have to say that the term ‘carol’ is somewhat
elastic: Wesley’s Love divine … a ‘carol’?
It speaks volumes for
the disc, therefore, that despite all these reservations I have
no hesitation in warmly recommending it – for its widely ranging
repertoire and consistently high standard of performance. It’s
good to find one of Malcolm Williamson’s richly harmonised pieces
– Dawn Carol – included (as in his setting of the Alleluia:
sample 2), Stephen Darlington’s Jacob’s Ladder,
two highly attractive if not particularly original carols by
Peter White (a composer new to me) and Sebastian Forbes’s There
is no rose – the disc’s much the most harmonically adventurous
track. I particularly enjoyed four fluent and colourful settings
by Howard Goodall, notably the jazzy Romance of the Epiphany
(sample 3) and his ripe music to Love divine:
it’s high time that John Rutter faced some competition!
By today’s standards
the accompanying booklet is woefully inadequate: true, the words
of every carol are given, but there is no information whatsoever
about the composers.