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Love came down at Christmas - Carols from St. Paulís Cathedral Choir
Franz GRÜBER arr. Malcolm Archer Silent Night [3í24"]
Felix MENDELSSOHN arr. David Willcocks Hark the herald angels sing [3í26"]
Gustav HOLST In the bleak midwinter [4í47"]
Michael PRAETORIUS arr. Jan Sandström Es ist ein Ros [4í12"]
Peter CORNELIUS arr. Ivor Atkins The three Kings [2í39"]
From Piae Cantiones arr. D. Willcocks Of the Fatherís heart begotten [4í55"]
John GARDNER Tomorrow shall be my dancing day [2í29"]
GAUNTLETT arr. A.H.Mann and M. Archer Once in Royal Davidís city [3í43"]
16th century French, harm. Charles Wood Ding, dong, merrily on high [2í08"]
Patrick HADLEY I sing of a maiden [2í39"]
Trad. Arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Thomas Armstrong O little town of Bethlehem [3í55"]
Old German arr. R.L. Pearsall ed. Reginald Jacques In dulci Jubilo [4í10"]
English arr. D. Willcocks God rest you merry gentlemen [3í39"]
English arr. D. Willcocks The Sussex carol
Malcolm ARCHER Love came down at Christmas [1í54"]
German arr. Charles Macpherson The Shepherdís cradle-song [3í35"]
John GOSS arr. Barry Rose See amid the winterís snow [6í04"]
Czech trad. English arr. D. Willcocks Rocking [2í18"]
Attrib. John READING arr. D. Willcocks O come, all ye faithful [4í57"]
St. Paulís Cathedral Choir/Malcolm Archer
Huw Williams (organ)
Recorded in St. Paulís Cathedral in July 2005. DDD
GRIFFIN GCCD 4051 [67í06"]

 

Iím not sure but this may be Malcolm Archerís first recording since he moved from Wells Cathedral in 2004 to become Director of Music at St. Paulís Cathedral.

This is a pleasant programme, consisting almost entirely of familiar and much-loved carols and mainly in well-known arrangements. And it is the very familiarity, which may influence some prospective purchasers.

Without exception the music is well performed. The choir sings extremely well. The organ accompaniments are so played - and recorded - as not to overwhelm the singers. Instead, Huw Williams gives just the right degree of support. The engineers have managed the cavernous acoustic of St Paulís well; thereís a nice halo around the choir, which is yet recorded clearly and at just a pleasing distance from the microphones. I find that the choir is nicely focused within the acoustic.

Among many points to enjoy thereís a good bass soloist in The Three Kings Ė and solo work throughout the disc is consistently well executed. John Gardnerís catchy carol may seem just a bit steady in tempo at first hearing. However, this marginal steadiness serves the music well - and may have been dictated by the acoustics - for the choir achieves excellent clarity both in respect of the words and the part writing. Iíve always thought The Shepherdís Cradle-song a fine setting. Here it flows beautifully at a nicely-chosen tempo and itís very well sung.

The arrangements by Sir David Willcocks are too familiar to call for comment other than to say that theyíre nicely complementd here. Malcolm Archerís arrangement of Silent Night is pleasing without being anything special. However, his last verse descant to Once in Royal Davidís city is effective. It was no doubt a nice idea to include See amid the winterís snow since the tune is by one of Archerís predecessors at St. Paulís, John Goss, and the arrangement used is by another former incumbent of the St. Paulís organ loft, Barry Rose. Iím afraid this is one of those seemingly interminable carols Ė The First Nowell is another Ė that just goes on and on but is so structured that one canít omit any verses. Itís definitely not one of my favourites. However, if I had to listen to it then it would definitely be in this excellent arrangement. Barry Rose varies the verses and refrains most effectively and, in so doing, makes a dull carol much more interesting.

There are two unfamiliar carols here. Archer himself contributes Love came down at Christmas. This short a capella setting is a real charmer. It may not break any new ground but it makes an impression through the simplicity and evident sincerity of the music. Jan Sandströmís version of Es ist ein Ros is described as an arrangement of the original Praetorius setting. However, to me it goes some way beyond being an arrangement. Like the Archer itís another a capella setting. The Praetorius melody, sung very slowly, is very definitely the foundation for the piece but Sandström surrounds the tune with a halo of intriguing choral harmonies. In his good liner note Malcolm Archer describes the piece as "hauntingly beautiful and [it] suits the famous acoustics of St. Paulís." Iím not sure when the piece was written but itís evidently contemporary, both on account of the musical language and because the composer was born in 1954.

This, then, is a most enjoyable disc on one level. The singing is excellent and will give much pleasure. Having said that I was very disappointed by the safe choice of music. Out of nineteen tracks only two, the Archer and the Sandström are remotely novel. For the rest Iím afraid itís the tried and trusted carols, mostly in tried and trusted arrangements that one has heard (and sung) so often before. If you are content with just a staple diet of Christmas fayre then you wonít go far wrong with this recital. However, given the high artistic standards itís hard not to think that if more imagination and enterprise had gone into the planning of the programme the disc could have been a winner. As it is I can only recommend it with modified rapture.

John Quinn



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