Schubert sonatas

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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



The Gift of Music


Winter Lullabies
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Panis Angelicus [3.35]
Charles GOUNOD
Salutation Angélique
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Psalm 23 - The Lord is my Shepherd D706 [4.46]
Ave Maria Op.52 No.6 [6.02]
Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924)
En prière [3.01]
Cantique de Jean Racine [4.41]
Ave Verum, Op. 65 No 1 [3.29]
Howard GOODALL (b. 1958)
Winter Lullabies [18.40]: (Inc. Now when winter nights enlarge, Stille Nacht, Crossing the border, Duérmete mi niño,
Sorrowful Lullaby, Lullaby of Winter
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
The harp resounds with wild refrain (from Four songs Op17.1) [4.00]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Ombra mai fu (‘Handel’s Largo') [2.41]
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856
Cantique de Noël [5.14]
The Boys of Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
Catrin Finch (harp)
rec. St Michael’s Church Lonsdale Road Oxford, 3-5 July 2006

This disc is an enjoyable and approachable collection of music suitable for Christmas and winter but with originality amongst the familiar. It features the choirboys of Christ Church Oxford where I have enjoyed their singing at services over forty years. I’ve also followed Howard Goodall’s progress with great interest since his student days, at Christ Church and in the band “Halfbrother”. His piece lies at the centre of this collection of well known choral pieces. The record was made at a North Oxford Church rather than Christ Church and the sound throughout is A1. This is an ideal record for an uncle or aunt (or nephew or niece) who would like something both familiar and slightly different at Christmas.
This is very much a record for the long winter evenings or to play on Christmas Day prior to cracking open a bottle and with the fire crackling in the grate! Here we have the boys only, without the men and instead of the organ the splendid Catrin Finch on the harp.
The set commences with two familiar pieces by Franck and Gounod and gives the listener time to adjust to the sound of trebles and harp. Psalm 23 is not Goodall’s brilliant “Vicar of Dibley” version but one by Schubert. As a reviewer recently exclaimed I didn’t know this existed. Note to myself:- must look through the 40 CD Hyperion collection! Ave Maria is charming and reminds me of the final sequence of “Fantasia”. Other standouts are Cantique de Jean Racine which the full choir gave us last term, and Handel’s Largo which works very well as a solo. I wonder if young Joe Armon-Jones who performs this very well is destined to become another Andreas Scholl, whose version is sublime? The other soloist Gregory Bannan alternates with Joe at the start of Fauré’s Ave Verum. The two voices work beautifully with the harp as accompaniment. This deserves regular playing on Classic FM this December!
The centre-piece of the disc is Winter Lullabies. This six movement work begins cheerfully with Thomas Campion’s Now Winter nights enlarge with fine singing by the choir and harp. Stille Nacht has a different tune to the familiar and is excellent and has touches of magic. This is followed by “Crossing the border” where the listener recognizes that the mood has changed from the optimistic start. Theo Dorgan’s inspiration is new to me but I recognize his Irish origins. This makes for a refreshing surprise and again the engineers have artistically captured the voices and harp; not always easy. We are moved to the Dominican Republic for Duérmete mi niño which means, ‘Go to sleep little baby”. It’s quite lively and upbeat if the purpose is to get the little darling to sleep! Once again the mood changes with our friend Anon’s Sorrowful Lullaby. The combination of voices and harp again evokes a bleak snow-filled landscape. It’s a fine example of how successful Stephen Darlington has been in producing a first rate choir whilst maintaining the boys’ enthusiasm and dedication. As the notes point out “richly robust”!
This fine sequence ends with Goodall’s Lullaby of winter which very effectively draws together ideas from the previous movements. The words as well as the music are startlingly powerful and challenging as well as affirmative. “That for every helpless kid there are two endings. One where we heard the cry, one where we won’t.” In a city where among the spires are three thousand homeless people and as I’m aware from my full time work, many victims of neglect and abuse, these are chilling words from the young choir. Christmas has a hard edge to it and by understanding that reality we come to understand its joys better. I was really impressed and knocked out by this piece. If that is all you hear I urge you to do so, but you’d miss a fine and inventive collection.
David R Dunsmore

Howard Goodall website

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