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Christmas Music from Eton College
Jacob HANDL (1550-1591) Resonet in laudibus [1:04]
Plainchant Hodie* [1:13]
Josquin des PREZ (c.1450/55Ė1521) Ave Maria [4:11]
Richard PYGOTT (c.1485-1549) Quid petis, O fili [7:57]
Thomas RAVENSCROFT (c.1592-c.1635) Remember, O thou Man [1:46]
Mateo FLECHA (1481?-1553?) Riu, riu, chiu [2:56]
Robert PARSONS (c.1530-1572) Ave Maria [4:13]
Trad. Gaudete [1:32]
Jean de OCKEGHEM (c.1410-1497) Ave Maria [2:33]
Plainchant Puer natus est nobis* [3:23]
John TAVENER (b. 1944) God is with us [4:47]
Pierre VILLETTE (1926-1998) Hymne à la Vierge [3:44]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Rosa Mystica [4:00]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Ave Maria [5:45]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) Bethlehem Down 2:57]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Sing Lullaby [2:58]
Elizabeth POSTON (1905-1987) Jesus Christ the Apple Tree [2:54]
Peter CORNELIUS (1824-1874) arr. ATKINS The Three Kings [2:17]
John GARDNER (b.1917) Tomorrow shall be my dancing day [2:04]
Plainchant Ave Maria*
Eton College Chapel Choir/Thomas Winpenny (organ)/*Francis Faux (director/cantor)/Ralph Allwood
Recording dates and venue not stated. ADD
RESONANCE CD RSN 3076 [65:21]

 

Ralph Allwood has established a tremendous reputation as a choral conductor. Not only is he Director of Music at Eton College but he also directs the Eton Choral Course, which he founded, and the superb Rodolfus Choir. Here he directs his Eton choir in a Christmas programme thatís nicely varied and splendidly executed.

As will be seen from a glance at the track listing the chronological range of the programme is wide. The listener is taken from plainchant through medieval music, polyphony, the Romantic period and right up to 1987, when John Tavener wrote his splendid Christmas Proclamation, God is with us. The Tavener is a marvellous piece and itís very well executed here. The unnamed tenor soloist sings with suitable ardour and the great coup of the sudden organ entry at the end is still thrilling even when you know itís coming. Here Thomas Winpenny conjures up great wells of sound, especially in the pedals, from what I assume is the organ in Eton College Chapel.

Among the other twentieth-century pieces I enjoyed the suave performance of Pierre Villetteís gorgeous Hymne à la Vierge and also Warlockís lovely Bethlehem Down. Ralph Allwood paces this latter piece just a touch more quickly than one often hears it and I think the resultant sense of flow benefits the music. He also obtains a lovely performance of the wonderful piece by Howells and, in contrast, leads a beautifully pointed account of John Gardnerís infectious, bouncy Tomorrow shall be my dancing day.

Generally he and his choir are just as successful in the music of earlier ages. The very first piece on the disc, Handelís Resonet in laudibus is sung joyfully with just the right amount of rhythmical verve. I was just a touch disappointed with Riu, riu, chiu. This is an earthy piece and while the choir enters into the spirit well I felt that the soloist was perhaps just a bit too polished and "nice". No reservations, however, about the polyphonic pieces. Parsonsí Ave Maria is a glorious creation and Allwoodís choir delivers it with wonderful care and sensitivity for the music. The concluding ĎAmení accounts for nearly 25% of the length of the entire piece and itís not a bar too long. Parsonsí polyphonic textures roll serenely on and the choir spins the lines beautifully. I also liked very much Quid petis, O fili by Richard Pygott. I canít recall hearing this before but itís a marvellous work, rather restrained in tone but very well done by the Eton singers.

However, mention of this Pygott piece brings me to my one quibble about this release. The documentation is barely adequate, even though it includes a useful, brief essay, which touches on many of the pieces. However, weíre not given the full names of most of the composers and there are no texts. It may be argued that one doesnít need texts since this is "just a disc of carols" but Iíd disagree. The chosen programme contains quite a good deal of music which is less than familiar. The Pygott anthem is one such case and my enjoyment of the piece was compromised because I had no idea what the text is about. Again, the Britten work is not one that I know and we are told absolutely nothing about it. Itís a shame that listeners havenít been given more information.

That apart this is a successful, very well executed and thoroughly enjoyable disc that should give a good deal of enjoyment this Christmas.

John Quinn


 



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