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Plum Pudding
Trad. Arr. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Wassail Song
John CLARE: December*
Tomás Luis da VICTORIA: O Magnum Mysterium
William BYRD: This day Christ was born
From The Wakefield Plays: God’s Speech *
Kenneth LEIGHTON: Lullay, Lulla
Rhian SAMUEL: Jolly wat the shepherd
Anon.: I sing of a Maiden*
Max REGER (arr. Broadbent): Virgin Mary’s Slumber-Song (Mariä Wiegenlied)
Peter CORNELIUS (arr. Atkins): The Three Kings
T.S. ELIOT: The Journey of the Magi*
Samuel BARBER: Twelfth Night
Laurie LEE: Christmas in Seville (excerpt)*
Francisco GUERRERO: Virgen Sancta
Trad Spanish, arr. Andrew CARTER: Esta Noche
Dylan THOMAS: Memories of Christmas*
Trad. arr. WALFORD DAVIES: The Holly and the Ivy
E. V. LUCAS: Christmas Decorations*
Trad Welsh arr. Broadbent: Deck the Hall
John Julius NORWICH: The Twelve Days of Christmas*
Trad. arr. Andrew CARTER: The Twelve Days of Christmas
Cpt. R. J. ARMES: Christmas Truce (A Letter)*
Leonard CLARK: Singing in the Streets*
Franz GRÜBER arr. Broadbent: Silent Night
Dame Felicity Lott (soprano)
*Gabriel Woolf (narrator)
Emily Woolf, Clair Porter, Helen Semple (sopranos)
Andy Mackinder (baritone)
Joyful Company of Singers/Peter Broadbent
Rec. 30 Nov 2002, Champs Hill, Pulborough, Sussex DDD
ASV WHITE LINE CD WHL 2150 [77’44"]


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Perhaps it’s not surprising that ASV give Felicity Lott top billing on the sleeve of this CD for she is, after all, a wonderful artist. People buying the disc should be warned, however, that she only contributes to four of the tracks. One of these contributions is the well-known Cornelius/Atkins Three Kings, which I have never heard sung by other than a baritone. Suffice to say, Dame Felicity sings it radiantly.

As I listened through the disc for the first time I began to realise that the programme has been compiled with rare intelligence. There are several items that complement each other. Thus, for example, the reading from the medieval Wakefield Play is followed by Kenneth Leighton’s carol from the Coventry Play. Later on the aforementioned Three Kings is followed immediately by the T. S. Eliot poem, marvellously read by Gabriel Woolf. Those who buy this disc will find that the programme contains further examples of thoughtful juxtaposition.

Though the accompanying documentation does not make this clear it seems that the CD is, in fact, a "live" recording. However, for much of the programme the audience is commendably silent and it was only at track 16 when Gabriel Woolf’s reading of Dylan Thomas rightly raises laughter that one realizes that an audience is present.

I’ve mentioned Gabriel Woolf twice already. No less than 10 of the 24 tracks on the CD are readings by him. He really is an excellent narrator, varying his delivery and accent intelligently and possessing the priceless gift of good timing. The Dylan Thomas reading is one of the very best things that he does. The Laurie Lee reading is another (and how refreshing to find a choice other than the ubiquitous Cider with Rosie.) The Laurie Lee item is one of a few where there is a segue from a reading into the succeeding vocal item, always to good effect.

The singing throughout this collection is first rate. Dame Felicity is in lustrous voice (though I did wonder if her sheer vocal sophistication was just a little too much of a good thing in the Leighton, sacrificing thereby some of the stark simplicity of the piece?) The contributions of Peter Broadbent and his Joyful Company of Singers will also give much pleasure. They offer a beautiful account of Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium and they project vividly Samuel Barber’s dark 1968 setting of Laurie Lee, Twelfth Night. Their performance of the Max Reger piece is gorgeous, featuring some fine solo work from soprano soloists drawn from the choir itself. Here, it seems to me, Broadbent and his singers really convey the spirit of traditional German Christmas music.

No texts are provided. In general this is not a problem since diction is very clear throughout but, of course, several items are not in English. There is a succinct but useful note. There is a minor confusion about the track listing. The reading from E. V. Lucas and The Holly and the Ivy are listed as separate tracks (18 and 19) but in fact the carol is sung during the reading so the subsequent track listings and timings are incorrect. However, as this affects only the last few tracks on the disc it is scarcely a major problem unless one wants to play one of the last tracks in isolation, in which case a little mental adjustment will be needed.

This is a highly entertaining seasonal anthology, the contents of which have been chosen and executed with great skill and no little imagination. In fact, I’m almost tempted to say that the title "Plum Pudding" is a little misleading since it suggests a collection of Christmas sweetmeats. There are some such items, to be sure, but there is some more serious fare also in what is a very well balanced programme. Though one may wish to listen to individual tracks this is certainly a disc that will give most pleasure when listened to straight through for then the whole becomes greater than the sum of the not inconsiderable parts. I predict that this CD will give a great deal of Christmas pleasure and I warmly recommend it.


John Quinn

 

 



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