The Naxos Book
O come, o come, Emmanuel
Piae Cantiones 1582 arr.
Of the Fatherís heart begotten
O quickly come
Verbum Patris umanatur, O, O
M. MADAN arr. A.
Lo! He comes
J. SHARP & A.
PITTS arr. A.
The holly and the ivy
?PRAETORIUS arr. A.
Lo, there a Rose is blooming
century arr. A.
Alleluya Ė a new work
Ding! Dong! merrily on high
G. KIRBYE arr. A.
While shepherds watched
The Song of Angels
Hark! The herald angels sing
F. X. GRUBER
W. J. KIRKPATRICK
Away in a manger
Czech trad. arr. A.
Baby Jesus, hush! Now sleep
J. M. PITTS
O little town of Bethlehem
S. BACH arr. A.
Jesu, the very thought is sweet
F. Wade arr. A.
O come, all ye faithful
The King of Kings
Piae Cantiones, 1582 arr.
J. S. BACH, J. STAINER
In dulci jubilo
Piae Cantiones, 1582 arr.
Good King Wenceslas
J. H. HOPKINS
We three kings of Orient are
English trad. arr. A.
I saw three ships come sailing in
Hail to the Lordís Anointed
Tonus Peregrinus/Antony Pitts
Recorded at the Church of St. Jude-
on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb,
July 2003 DDD
NAXOS 8.557330 [78:59]
These new arrangements,
interspersed with a small number of
originals, have been commissioned especially
for this recording from the director
of the eight part vocal ensemble Tonus
Peregrinus, Antony Pitts. Organised
as an advent sequence with a carol for
each day, the twenty-four carols are
bracketed into four groups, The Hope,
The Message, The Baby and The King of
As you would expect,
given that the disc comes as a joint
venture by Naxos and Faber Music, there
is an additional commercial angle behind
it. With an eye on the lucrative seasonal
music market amongst amateur choirs,
the music is all down-loadable via the
Faber Music website at a price of ten
pounds per carol. Yet more Christmas
commercialism one might say. The project
does however yield some worthwhile results
and most of all gives us a disc that
is a pleasure to listen to for the quality
of the singing alone.
Whether the arrangements
themselves hit the spot will depend
on your stance as a traditionalist or
otherwise. Antony Pitts has clearly
relished the opportunity of arranging
for his own choir and has taken full
advantage, indulging in the possibilities
for intricate counterpoint and adventurous
harmony with abandon. In certain cases
this undoubtedly reaches the point of
overkill, as in Hark! The
herald angels sing, where it strikes
me that Pitts has simply tried to do
too much with the inner parts and the
final verse. The same can be said, albeit
to a slightly lesser degree, of O
come, all ye faithful.
Elsewhere however there
are some notable successes. O come,
o come, Emmanuel proceeds from a
suitably plainsong like opening, effectively
reflecting its thirteenth century origins
before the writing becomes ever more
sophisticated, the organ joining only
in the final verse and adding its voice
to an unexpected, if possibly unnecessary
final chord. In O quickly come,
a quirky little original in 7/8 time,
the detailed counterpoint is strikingly
effective and whilst no doubt tricky
to sing (Tonus Peregrinus make it sound
admirably easy with diction of the highest
quality) I can see this becoming a popular
addition to the seasonal choral repertoire.
In similar fashion Ding! Dong! merrily
on high features some athletic and
admirably well-articulated singing,
the semi quaver runs that abound being
heard with crystal precision. The arrangements
of Silent Night and Away in
a manger will once again depend
upon ones stance given the licence that
is taken with the harmonisations although
it cannot be denied that Silent Night
in particular features some meltingly
lush moments. The well-known words of
O little town of Bethlehem are
here given a new setting by J. M. Pitts,
presumably related to Antony Pitts although
the booklet notes give no confirmation
of this. Not surprisingly the result
lacks the melodic strength of Vaughan
Williamsí original and upon the entry
of the organ vaguely reminded me, in
style at least, of Howard Goodallís
theme music to The Vicar of Dibley.
I particularly enjoyed the more familiar
Personent hodie, Pitts weaving
In dulci jubilo into the organ
part of the final verse whilst a sparklingly
joyful realisation of Good King Wenceslas
also works particularly well. The original
that closes the disc and ultimately
heralds Christmas day, Hail to the
Lordís Anointed, loses its direction
to a degree part way through but culminates
in suitably blazing paean of praise.
Arrangements that can
vary between the wayward and the highly
effective then, yet sung with fervour
by a young vocal ensemble that I hope
to hear more of. Either way, for the
usual Naxos fiver you really canít go
see also reviews
by John Quinn and Rob Barnett