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The Mystery of Christmas
The Huron Carol
(1641) [
Robert EVANS
Ring-a the News
* (1989) [
Trad. Arr. Noel
O Come All Ye Faithful
* [4:04]
Harold DARKE
In the Bleak Midwinter
* [
The Three Kings
Trad. Dutch
King Jesus hath a Garden
Silent Night
Trad. English arr. David WILLCOCKS
Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day [
Laudate Dominum
* [
Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël
Trad. French arr. David WILLCOCKS
Ding-Dong Merrily on High* [
Elizabeth POSTON
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
(1967) [3:46]
What Sweeter Music
* [
Trad. German
Linden Tree Carol [1:43]
Benjamin BRITTEN
A Hymn to the Virgin
Trad. Polish arr. Sir Malcolm SARGENT
Star in the South
Hark the Herald Angels Sing* [
God is with Us – A Christmas Proclamation
* (1987) [
The Elora Festival Singers/*Michael Bloss (organ)/Noel Edison
rec. The
Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto, June 1997. DDD
NAXOS 8.554179


This is a lovely Christmas album and does what all good choral Christmas collections should.  It juxtaposes the new with the old, the unfamiliar with the familiar and binds the whole together with intelligent programming.

Canadian and American composers, old and new, are well represented here.  The haunting Huron Carol has the distinction of being perhaps the first Christmas carol composed on the North American continent, making it an appropriate opening track.  Robert Evans’ jaunty Ring-a the News contrasts with Poston’s rapt setting of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, which features some particularly lovely sopranos soli passages.  Anglo-Canadian Healey Willan’s The Three Kings is a real discovery, full of ardent and beautiful soaring choral writing.  Naxos has been recording a good amount of his output of late (see review 1 and review 2 ), and I hope the trend continues.

Immediately preceded by the ecstatic swelling amens that close Honegger’s Laudate Dominum, Poulenc’s Latin motets mark a meditative midpoint in the programme, and are performed with lightness and a touching sincerity.

Edison contributes his own arrangements of O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, featuring striking new descants.  On balance I prefer David Willcocks’ arrangements of these two carols, but probably more as a function of familiarity rather than quality.  In any case, it is refreshing to hear new arrangements of these well-known carols.  Good new arrangements - and Edison’s arrangements are definitely good ones - can make you listen more intently to both tune and lyrics, and in a Christmas collection this is Very Important and a Good Thing.

The other familiar items, including a gorgeous rendering of Drake’s setting of In the Bleak Midwinter, also receive excellent performances consistent with the overall quality of the singing on this album.  The Elora Festival Singers are a biggish chamber choir (SATB 6-4-4-6), but sing with clear diction and flexibility throughout this programme under Noel Edison’s direction.

A few items by British composers pop up in the latter half of the disc.  The Rutter is lovely and it is the portentous “Christmas Proclamation” by John Tavener (not to be confused with John Taverner, the Tudor composer) that closes the programme.  As much as I enjoy Taverner’s music, I do not much like Tavener’s, but the Elora Festival Singers won me over here.

It seems that this disc is a re-release rather than a new release - indeed the cardboard slip case describes it as a “perennial Naxos favourite”.  I missed it the first time around and am glad to have encountered it now in its new incarnation.  I do wish, though, that the new incarnation included more detailed booklet notes and full texts of the songs, particularly the less familiar ones.

I can see myself returning to this disc gladly each December, and think you will too.  Treat yourself to a copy this Christmas.

Tim Perry

see also Review by John Quinn November BARGAIN OF THE MONTH



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