> A Trinity Christmas [JQ] : Classical Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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A Trinity Christmas
Phillipp NICOLAI (1556-1608) harm. Michael PRAETORIUS (c1571-1621): ‘Wake, O wake with tidings thrilling’ [1’23"]
Anon (13th century). ‘Edi beo thu hevene quene’ [0’54"]
Arr. D. WILLCOCKS (b.1919): ‘Of the Father’s heart begotten’ [3’27"]
Anon (14th century): ‘Angelus ad virginem’ [1’42"]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897): ‘Es is ein Ros’ entsprungen’* [2’23"]
Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973): ‘I sing of a maiden’ [2’30"]
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): ‘A child is born in Bethlehem’ [2’08"]
H. J. GAUNTLETT (1805-1876): ‘Once in royal David’s city’ [2’25"]
G. R. WOODWARD (1848-1934): ‘Up! Good Christen folk, and listen’ [1’22"]
Czech trad. arr. D. WILLCOCKS: ‘Rocking’ [1’47"]
English trad. Arr. H. Walford DAVIES (1869-1941): ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ [3’27"]
John IRELAND (1879-1962): ‘The Holy boy’* [2’42"]
M. PRAETORIUS, arr. R. MARLOW (b.1939): ‘A great and mighty wonder’ [4’04"]
Arr. Edgar PETTMAN (1865-1943): ‘I saw a maiden’ [3’19"]
William MATHIAS (1934-1992): Sir Christémas’ [1’31"]
Trad. German, harm. J. S. BACH (1685-1750):’O little one sweet’ [2’10"]
Richard Rodney BENNETT (b. 1936): ‘Out of your sleep’ [1’41"]
Henri MULET (1878-1967): ‘Noël’** [2’36"]
English trad. Arr. D. WILLCOCKS: ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’ [1’53"]
Anon. Arr. D. WILLCOCKS: ‘O come, all ye faithful’ [3’38"]
Trad. German, arr. R. L. PEARSALL (1795-1856): ‘In dulci jubilo’ [3’38"]
J. S. BACH: ‘In dulci jubilo’ ** [2’22"]
English trad. Arr. D. WILLCOCKS: ‘I saw three ships’ [1’50"]
French trad. Arr. Martin SHAW (1875-1958): ‘Noël nouvelet’ [2’38"]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847), arr. D. WILLCOCKS: Hark! the herald angels sing’ [3’01"]
Jean-François DANDRIEU (c 1682-1738): ‘Le Roy des cieux’ ** [0’51"]
Peter CORNELIUS (1824-1874), arr. Ivor ATKINS (1869-1987); ‘The three kings’ [2’26"]
Elizabeth POSTON (1905-1987); ’Jesus Christ, the apple tree’ [3’04"]
Felix MENDELSSOHN: ‘Frohlokket, ihr Völker auf Erden’ (Op.79/1) [1’28"]
Conrad KOCHER (1786-1872), arr. D. WILLCOCKS: ‘As with gladness men of old’ [2’41"]
The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, directed by Richard Marlow
*Douglas Paine and **Benjamin Woodward (organ)
Recorded in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, July 4-6 2001
GMN CO118 [71’01]
CD available for post-free online mail-order or you may download individual tracks. For some labels you can download the entire CD with a single click and make HUGE savings. The price you see is the price you pay! The full booklet notes are available on-line.

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Occasionally one wonders just how truthful and faithful is a recording. Is the finished product the result of many edits? Well, I can’t say how many different edits may have been spliced together to produce the present disc (not too many, I suspect). What I can say, however, is that this disc seems to me to offer a pretty faithful representation of the sound of the Trinity College choir on their home territory. Just about three years ago I had the opportunity to attend choral evensong in the Trinity chapel. Having heard the choir many times on disc and on the radio I jumped at the chance to hear them ‘in the flesh’. The service was not a special occasion but simply an "ordinary" midweek evensong. However, it was readily apparent that all the music – largely sixteenth century English polyphony – had been prepared with scrupulous care and it was sung with obvious commitment to and love of the music and with fastidious attention to detail. It was an experience I shall not easily forget.

I mention this because the same virtues are evident on this disc (and probably quite a few of the singers I heard that evening were still with the choir when this recording was made some eighteen months later.). One of the great challenges – and excitements – of directing an Oxbridge college choir must be the fact that, by the nature of things, the personnel will change annually with probably a complete ‘churn’ every three years. It is a tribute to Richard Marlow, Director of Music at Trinity since 1968, that on the evidence of the recordings he has made with his choir over the years, he has maintained them at such a consistent and high standard.

Trinity admitted female undergraduates in 1982 since when the chapel choir has featured mixed voices. It consists (for this recording, anyway) of 10 sopranos, 6 altos (two of them male), 4 tenors and 6 basses. This ensemble makes a beautifully blended sound. Tuning is impeccable, as is diction (GMN supply all texts but you will scarcely need them). The balance between the voices seems to my ears to be well nigh flawless and the choir’s sound is topped off by a soprano line of crystalline purity.

Their programme has been well chosen and is nicely varied. My only disappointment is that there is something of a shortage of original modern settings, though there are several twentieth century arrangements of older carols. One or two less familiar pieces would have spiced up the collection nicely without, I think, limiting its overall appeal. Very sensibly, the opportunity has been taken to intersperse some organ solos. These vary the programme nicely and all are expertly played by the college’s Organ Scholars.

As I’ve already implied the overall standard of performance is excellent. Occasional reservations creep in. For example, some may feel that ‘Up! Good Christen folk’ (track 9) is a bit too smooth – as if the exclamation mark in the title has been overlooked. To my mind the rhythms need to be just a bit more pointed and lively than is the case here if the carol is to convey the right degree of innocent joy. That said, the sheer beauty of the sound and the precision of ensemble does much to disarm such criticism. It is only fair to say that the performance of Scheidt’s ‘A child is born in Bethlehem’ (track 7) amply demonstrates that a finely spun legato line does not necessarily preclude rhythmic buoyancy. In fact, that particular item is an excellent example of the choir’s balance and bright, homogenous tone.

The performance of ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ (track 11) gives a good idea of the care which has been lavished on this recital. This is one of those carols which can so easily sound repetitive and unvaried. However, Richard Marlow treats each verse and refrain imaginatively so as to provide constant interest. Just as enjoyable is ‘A great and mighty wonder’ (track 13) with Marlow’s own memorable descant adorning two of the verses.

As I said, there aren’t too many modern settings in this collection. Those that are featured are done very well. The carol by Richard Rodney Bennett (track 17) is given an alert and expressive performance while there is an exemplary crispness and vitality to the Mathias setting (track 15).

If I had to pick just one item to show the choir at its very best it would be Bach’s ‘O little one sweet’ (track 16). This is one of the most sublime of all Christmas pieces and Marlow and his singers present it with exemplary control and with a purity of sound that does full justice to the simplicity and rapture of this exquisite seasonal gem. What a shame that only two verses could be fitted in.

This is a very fine Christmas anthology. The acoustic of Trinity chapel has been captured excellently by the engineers who have also recorded the organ very well. The acoustic undoubtedly enhances the singing and Richard Marlow knows just how to use it to best advantage. All texts and translations are provided and what a pleasure it is to encounter a booklet which is laid out clearly and stylishly so that everything is easy to read.

I hope this CD will give other listeners as much pleasure as it did me. The choice of music and the dedication of the performances remind us, as all good Christmas music should, what the season is really about. Warmly recommended.

John Quinn

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nº1 -
Wake, O wake with tidings thrilling
Ebi beo thu
Of the Father's heart
Angelus ad virginem
Es ist ein Ros'entsprungen
I sing of a maiden
A child is born in Bethlehem
Once in Royal David's City
Up! good Christen folk, and listen
The Holly and the Ivy
The holy boy
A great and mighty wonder
I saw a maiden
Sir Christmas
O little one sweet
Out of your sleep
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
O come, all ye faithful
In dulce jubilo
In dulci jubilo
I saw three ships
Noel nouvelet
Hark! the herald angels sing
Le Roy des cieux
The three kings
Jesus Christ, the apple tree
Frolokket ihr Volker
As with gladness

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