Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



Andrew CARTER (b.1939)
Andrew CARTER’s Christmas Carols

Trad. French, arr. CARTER: ‘A maiden most gentle’ [3’30"]
Wilhelm DÖRFLER, arr. CARTER: ‘Nightingale Carol’ [3’21"]
CARTER: ‘Chanticleer Carol’ [2’17"]
14th century, arr. CARTER: ‘Angelus ad Virginem’ [3’28"]
Appalachian trad. arr. CARTER: ‘I wonder as I wander’ [2’59"]
English trad. arr. CARTER: ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’ [1’45"]
CARTER: Canon on Forest Green (organ solo) [2’22"]
From Piae Cantiones arr. CARTER: ‘Personent hodie’ [2’32"]
CARTER: ‘Sweet was the song the Virgin sang’ [3’42"]
CARTER: ‘I come from highest heaven’ [3’16"]
Trad. arr. CARTER: ‘Spanish Lullaby’ [3’57"]
CARTER: ‘Hodie Christus natus est’ [2’05"]
English trad. arr. CARTER: ‘Down in yon forest’ [2’12"]
CARTER: ‘The Morning Star’ [3’45"]
French 15th century arr. CARTER: ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’ [3’41"]
CARTER: Toccata on Veni Emmanuel (organ solo) [3’59"]
CARTER: ‘There is no rose’ [3’35"]
CARTER: ‘Mary’s Magnificat’ [3’21"]
CARTER: ‘Make we merry on this fest’ [1’27"]
Trad. arr. CARTER: ‘Spanish Carol’ [1’52"]
Trad. arr. CARTER: ‘Polish Carol’ [4’17"]
French 16th century arr. CARTER: ‘Cétait la veill’ de Noé’ [2’00"]
Trad. arr. CARTER: ‘Austrian Yodel Carol’ [2’58"]
Franz GRÜBER\ arr. CARTER: ‘Stille Nacht’ [4’04"]
Quire of London
Directed by Andrew Carter
John Scott (organ)
Recorded in the Church of St. Alban the Martyr, Holborn, London on 23/24 January 2002

YORK AMBISONIC YORK CD 169 [72’42"]

BUY NOW 

  AmazonUK   AmazonUS

 


To many people in the English-speaking world modern Christmas carol settings are inextricably linked with the name of John Rutter. Now along comes this CD to show that there is another English composer producing excellent work in this musical field – and others!

John Rutter’s music is widely known and I mention his name as a point of reference for those to whom the name of Andrew Carter may be less familiar. Carter is very much his own man but I hope neither he nor John Rutter, a composer whose vocal music I also admire very much, will be affronted if I say there seem to me to be a number of similarities between the two of them. Firstly, both write accessible music in a modern idiom but in a way that respects and builds on tradition. Neither commits the cardinal sin of writing music which is so esoteric that they leave their audiences behind but, equally, neither patronises the audience; there is genuine substance to their music. Thirdly, both composers write music which is invariably pleasing to the ear and, in the case of their vocal music, rewarding to sing but, as I know from personal experience, their music presents performers with many challenges. In addition, both produce music which is immaculately crafted. Finally, both have a good eye for a text and, crucially, possess strong melodic gifts. For all these priceless virtues both composers deserve the thanks and active support of listeners and performers alike.

Andrew Carter was born in 1939. Though he is a native of Leicestershire he has been fortunate enough to spend much of his musical career in the wonderful medieval city of York. Initially he taught music at one of the city’s schools and sang as a lay clerk in the Minster choir under Francis Jackson. In 1965 he founded a chamber choir, the Chapter House Choir which, in the seventeen years of his directorship, developed a national reputation. After a year in New Zealand in 1984 directing a number of choirs, he returned to York and a career as a full-time composer and conductor. Vocal music has formed a major part of his output to date, including many anthems and other pieces of church music. He was commissioned to write a mass setting, the Missa Sancti Pauli for the 1997 tercentenary of St. Paul’s Cathedral and works for chorus and orchestra have included settings of the Benedicite, Te Deum, and Laudate Dominum. Over the years his music has become increasingly well known in the USA and, indeed, several important commissions have come from that side of the Atlantic.

I must declare a slight "interest" here. In common, I suspect, with many other choral singers I have sung a couple of Andrew Carter’s carols over the years. However, earlier this year I had the opportunity to get to know one of his larger scale works when the choir of which I am a member prepared and then gave three performances of one of his most recent works, the aforementioned Laudate Dominum. This setting of Psalm 148 was completed in late 1998. Lasting about 20 minutes it is a thoroughly enjoyable and effective work which both our singers and our audiences took to. I commend it to other choirs.

This present CD should also whet the appetites of choirs for they will find much in its contents to interest them, I think. The programme contains twenty-two carols and two Christmas organ pieces. Of the carols seven are original compositions and the remainder are arrangements of carols, some better known than others. Many of the arrangements were written for the Chapter House Choir’s annual candlelit carol concerts in the Chapter House of York Minster from which the choir took its name. Several of the carols, starting with A maiden most gentle (track 1), have featured in the service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge and, indeed Angelus ad Virginem (track 4) was written specifically for King’s. Carter himself has provided the words for two of the arranged carols and, indeed, he supplies his own texts for four of his original compositions as well. I suspect that most of the items are receiving their first recordings.

The performers are the Quire of London, which I infer from the notes is an ad-hoc body of twenty singers, presumably professional. They sing very well indeed, blending beautifully, with a lovely, pure soprano line topping off the ensemble. Diction is excellent throughout and the tuning is impeccable. Accompanying them in several of the items and playing two short solos is the distinguished Director of Music at St. Paul’s Cathedral, John Scott.

In a programme of twenty four items it’s only possible to mention a few highlights. However, in so doing I ought to say that all the pieces on this disc are fresh and appealing. The melodies, whether original or not, are memorable and the harmonic language is accessible (though never cloying) and interesting.
Andrew Carter’s very effective arrangement of O come, O come Emmanuel has appeared on disc before, on Hyperion’s 1997 recording, ‘Advent at St. Paul’s’ (CDA 66994). There, as on the present disc, it is followed very suitably by Carter’s splendid Toccata for organ on the same melody (tracks 15 & 16). The 1961 three manual organ at St. Alban’s, Holborn is not such a big beast as the St. Paul’s instrument (though it is clearly a fine organ with ample power, where needed). So John Scott, who also plays on the Hyperion disc and who premiered the Toccata in 1995, doesn’t quite have the same range of tonal resources available to him this time round. On the other hand, the acoustic of St. Alban’s is nowhere near as echoing as that of St. Paul’s. Consequently, what the present recording may slightly lack in sheer power it more than makes up for in greater clarity. Personally, I have a sneaking preference for the Hyperion performance which has just a touch more grandeur, especially in the pedals. The main point, however, is that the Toccata is a superb display piece and it is played here with all the virtuosity you’d expect from John Scott. In a much quieter vein he also offers another solo, the Canon on Forest Green, the tune associated with O little town of Bethlehem (track 7).
On the other hand, I have a distinct preference for the present version of the hymn itself over the St. Paul’s account. The St. Paul’s choir sing the first verse in unison and with organ accompaniment but I find it works much better here sung a capella. The recorded sound is much better balanced too. My only regret is that the choir couldn’t have been recorded singing it in procession.

Carter’s original carols are, without exception, very fine. The Chanticleer Carol (track 3) contains flowing harmonies and some unexpected melodic turns. The word painting is also very acute. Sweet was the song the Virgin sang (track 9) is set, most appropriately, for ladies voices only. It’s a tender, very feminine setting of gentle poignancy. I also liked I come from highest heaven (track 10) where the textures and harmonies are nicely varied in each verse and the important organ part is much more than a "mere" accompaniment (a common feature throughout the programme). The ending of this carol, with the word ‘balulalow’ spiralling gently upwards to the final cadence, is particularly effective. The exuberant Hodie Christus natus est (track 12) was apparently written to be rehearsed and performed in one day by youth choirs – quite a challenge I should have thought. Best of all among the original carols, I think, is There is no rose (track 17). This features harmonies of gentle dissonance and wide-ranging melody. For much of the music’s course the tempo is slow and the mood subdued but there is a telling break into joyful exuberance at the words ‘the angels sungen the shepherds to Gloria in excelcis Deo’.

All the carol arrangements here are excellent and strike me as being most effective. Crucially, as in the lovely Polish Carol, the arrangement respects the original melody and enhances it. Most traditional carols are essentially simple little pieces and it is all too easy for a modern arrangement to overwhelm them. Never does one have the sense that this is happening here. Sample the utterly charming Austrian Yodel Carol (track 23)
Two arrangements were actually made for a particular singer who sang with the Chapter House Choir for a while, I believe, and has since gone on to an illustrious career. This is none other than Lynne Dawson, who happens to be one of my own very favourite sopranos. Andrew Carter arranged the two Spanish items included here specifically for her to sing. Spanish Lullaby (track 11) is a setting of great tenderness and sincerity for soprano solo and wordless chorus. It has a simple sophistication about it which is most affecting. It is raptly sung here by Joanne Lunn who is just as excellent in the dancing, irresistibly joyful Spanish Carol (track 20). Here one feels only the castanets are missing!

During my own time in York as a student in the early 1970s I never attended a Chapter House Choir concert (something I now much regret.) However, I know the glorious building from which the choir took its name. I can imagine, therefore, just how atmospheric their candlelit carol concerts there must have been. Often the encore to these concerts would be the piece with which this CD concludes, Stille Nacht (track 24) Andrew Carter’s simple, faithful arrangement, full of Christmas peace, brings this recital to a tranquil close. The performance of this item, and indeed, all the preceding twenty-three tracks is exemplary.

The recordings were made in the church of St. Albans, Holborn and the engineers have produced a most truthful, realistic and musical sound picture. The voices are recorded clearly and the organ has been captured superbly. Everything has great presence and the balance between singers and organ is excellent. The accompanying booklet is very well produced and contains texts and, where appropriate, translations of all the vocal items. The notes are by the composer himself and are succinct, witty and interesting.
In summary, this is a delightful, atmospheric and most enjoyable Christmas CD which I hope will have a wide circulation. Its contents are nicely varied and will appeal to a wide audience, I’m sure. I do hope that before too long some enterprising company will undertake recordings of some of his larger scale works.

Recommended with enthusiasm.

John Quinn


AVAILABILITY

Available from Amazon (link above) or York Ambisonic (ACC), PO Box 66, Lancaster, England, LA2 6HS (fax 44 (0)1524 824420) In the UK the CD should also be available through record shops. (Quote YORK CD 169 and Metronome Distribution.)

In the USA, Oxford University Press in New York will supply and the disc is also to be found on the Gothic Records website (and in their catalogue). The OUP postal address is Oxford University Press, Music Department, 198 Manhattan Avenue, New York NY 10016. Fax 212 726 6441.

The Andrew Carter website gives a track listing and the option to download a UK or US order form.


Return to 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.