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
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
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.
by John Quinn November
BARGAIN OF THE MONTH