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The Carols Album
Huddersfield Choral Society/Joseph Cullen
Darius Battiwalla (organ)
rec. Huddersfield Town Hall, 12-14 January 2007; text and translations included
SIGNUM SIGCD108 [74:12]

Felix MENDELSSOHN arr. Darius BATTIWALLA "Hark! the herald angels sing" [3:21]; Trad arr. Joseph CULLEN "Gaudete" [1:25]; "O come, all ye faithful" [3:59]; "The holly and the ivy" [2:33]; Basque arr. Edgar PETTMAN Gabriel’s Message [2:39]; Trad arr. Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS & Cullen "O little town of Bethlehem" [3:30]; Trad arr. Martin SHAW Coventry Carol [2:37]; "Angels from the realms of glory" [3:41 "Unto us a boy is born" [1:48]; Joseph CULLEN "In excelsis gloria" [2:44]; Franz GRUBER arr. CULLEN "Silent Night" Trad arr. Graham BARBER "Whence is this goodly fragrance" [4:02]; Simon LINDLEY Ave Maria [2:13]; W HOLFORD arr. CULLEN "Joy to the world" [1:49]; Trad arr. Battiwalla "Little Jesus, sweetly sleep" [2:34]; "I saw three ships" [1:47]; Sidney HANN arr. Graham BARBER "Love came down at Christmas" [1:42]; Adolphe ADAM arr. John RUTTER "O holy night" [5:34]; Harold DARKE "In the bleak midwinter" [4:19]; Trad arr. Sir David WILLCOCKS "Ding, dong! merrily on high" [2:04]; Sussex Carol [1:38]; "Of the Father’s heart begotten" [3:16]; Trad arr. Sir Arthur SULLIVAN & BATTIWALLA "It came upon the midnight clear" [3:20]; Reginald SPOFFORTH "Hail! smiling morn" [2:10]; W Kirkpatrick arr. CULLEN "Away in a manger" [2:33]; John WAINWRIGHT arr. BATTIWALLA "Christians awake" [2:39];

There are a few surprises right from the start of this disc. First, an introduction to the carol "Hark the herald angels sing" by an unnamed brass group, second the use of a new (to me) arrangement, and finally the sound of a well trained and well recorded choir but singing with polished Southern vowels. Whilst I regret the loss of some of the individuality which a more characteristically Yorkshire sound used to give this splendid choir, it is by no means a serious defect, and the other surprises I have mentioned are positive gains. The brass group are used sparingly in a small number of carols, but there they do add a distinctive colour of a kind familiar to devotees of Songs of Praise. The new arrangements (again, to me) of many of the carols are generally welcome, especially most of those by the excellent organist, Darius Battiwalla. The contrasting "Little Jesus, sweetly sleep" and "I saw three ships" show him able to grasp the essence of a tune and embellish it without swamping or contradicting that essence. Unfortunately this does not apply in the final item – "Christians awake" – which loses its wonderful rough dignity in gaining a regrettable Broadway Musicals sound.

Many of the other arrangements are by the conductor, Joseph Cullen, who shows a similarly approach and skill to Darius Battiwalla. Older arrangements are by no means completely neglected, and "Gabriel’s message" in Edgar Pettman’s lovely arrangement and Harold Darke’s "In the bleak midwinter" are highlights for me. Less so are John Rutter’s perversion of Adophe Adam’s delightful song or the pleasant but by now hackneyed arrangements by David Willcocks. One surprise is the inclusion of Reginald Spofforth’s Glee, "Hail! smiling morn". Even if it does sound better with single voices to a part, it makes a delightful effect here, and I hope that other choirs may be tempted to include it in carol concerts, even if the words have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

The problem of the order in which to perform carols to ensure a good variety of character is solved very well, so that the disc can be enjoyed when listened through as a whole. All in all, if you want a recording of most of your favourite carols (but no "Good King Wenceslas" or "While shepherds") in varied and mainly attractive arrangements, well sung and recorded, this may well be exactly what you are after.

John Sheppard


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