| Hodie. An English Christmas Collection.
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Make we joy now in this fest
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Peter Racine FRICKER (1929-1990)
A babe is born
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
The Virgin’s Cradle Song
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
A Hymn to the Virgin
A Ceremony of Carols
John TAVERNER (b 1944)
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
A spotless rose
Peter HAYWARD (b 1955)
Lute book lullaby
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
John GARDNER (b 1917)
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
Recorded St Michael’s Church, Highgate, London January 1990 and September 1992
CORO 16004 [59’22]
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The product of some canny programming – of which Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols is the centrepiece - this is another of The Sixteen’s increasingly long line of outstanding discs. Taking as its point of origin the revival of Christmas music in England - an ascent matched by the concomitant decline in observance of saints’ days – the disc traces the essentially secular nature of these composers’ inspirations. They range from Herbert Howells, born in 1892 to the youngest, Peter Hayward, born in 1955.
Employing variously Latin and English texts the composers have all sought differing compositional means to convey the carols’ mystical or affirmative meanings. Walton, for example, begins the disc with the joyful archaisms of Make we joy now in this fest whereas Leighton prefers a simple strophic form to elaborate the gravity of the Coventry Carol. Fricker is spare, almost spectral in his sophisticated evocation of the middle ages, managing by some alchemy not to sound imitative but instead profoundly and inexhaustibly meditative. All this in 1.39. Rubbra’s The Virgin’s Cradle Song is an early work and has a modal generosity of spirit if not yet the full panoply of his great gifts. The Tavener was written in 1982 and imbued with the spirit of the Orthodox Church, The Lamb, (from the Blake) and has an almost defiant simplicity. Howells’ Sing lullaby is a beautifully crafted and opulently rich setting – the top voices’ extension thrilling to hear. Hayward’s setting is attractive but Warlock’s Corpus Christi a masterpiece of compression and technique, excellently realised here. By comparison his Benedicamus Domino is a stout and broadly joyful setting. John Gardner’s carol is well characterised in Nicolas Robertson’s notes as "pagan, erotic and symbolically Christian" – a piece both forward looking and profoundly aware of its musical origins. The bulk of the rest of the programme is devoted to Britten. A Hymn to the Virgin is a suitably precocious setting for a seventeen-year old exploring the poem’s mystical impress with commendable assurance. A Ceremony of Carols was his first setting for boys’ voices, written in 1942. Employing plainsong and a harp interlude, Christophers and The Sixteen are notably successful in extracting the full measure of the work’s evocative displacements and the vocal soloists are full of an ardent musicality that only enhances the keenness of the setting.
Notes are to the point and there are full texts.
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