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What Child Is This?
Chorus Angelicus and Gaudeamus/Paul Halley (music director, organ)
Christopher Lane, Recording Accompanist
rec. St. Francis of Assisi Church, Torrington, CT, USA (choir), Trinity Episcopal Church, Torrington, CT, USA (organ). 2006

Trad. English, arr. P. HALLEY
What Child Is This? [3:28]
13th century, arr. P. HALLEY
Angelus Ad Virginem [3:23]
13th century, arr. A. CARTER
Angelus Ad Virginem [3:08]
Appalachian melody, arr. P. HALLEY
Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head [3:10]
Trad. French, arr. K. LEIGHTON
O Leave Your Sheep [4:36]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Blessed Son of God [3:07]
Trad. English, arr. S. PRESTON
I Saw Three Ships [1:53]
Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548-1611)
O Magnum Mysterium [3:13]
Paul HALLEY (1952)
Agnus Dei [1:51]
Trad. English, orig. arr. J. STAINER, arr. P. HALLEY
The First Nowell [4:28]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Bogoróditse Devo [3:15]
Trad. English, arr. P. HALLEY
It Is Winter Now [3:00]
Melody from Piae Cantiones, arr. P. HALLEY
Good King Wenceslas [3:14]
John TAVENER (b.1944)
A Nativity [3:10]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Holy Boy [2:48]
Trad. English, arr. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
O Little Town of Bethlehem [3:28]
John WARLOCK (1894-1930),trans. A. CARTER
Lullaby My Jesus [3:08]
Trad. Irish, arr. P. HALLEY
Beannacht Leat A Mhuire [2:08]
Trad. English, arr. P. HALLEY
Infinite Light [2:49]
African-American Spiritual, arr. P. HALLEY
Go Tell It On The Mountain [3:17]
Trad. American, adapt. & arr. P. HALLEY
Watt’s Cradle Hymn [3:55]

I must confess that the title of this CD conjured up yet another collection of Yuletide perennials, which, like some Christmas puddings, can be nice and fruity but potentially stale. But — tidings of great joy — I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Paul Halley was born in England and grew up in Canada. His pedigree is impressive, having been awarded an organ scholarship at Trinity College in Cambridge where he studied composition and performance and won first prize in his examinations. He was later Organist and Choirmaster at St. John the Divine in New York City and a principal member of The Paul Winter Consort. He currently lives in Connecticut from where he multi-tasks as conductor, composer, arranger and teacher, of sacred music.

There are reasons why this matters. For starters, one can appreciate his seminal experience in choral music while at Trinity College: Both choirs, Chorus Angelicus (children’s choir), and Gaudeamus (adult ensemble), sing with the precision and clarity that is a hallmark of the English choral tradition. Having said that, they sound relaxed and at ease, without ever losing reverence for the religious settings of most of the pieces. Another reason is that Mr. Halley arranged more than half of the works on this disc, and the results are innovative, even unexpected, but never strident or narcissistic. The Agnus Dei on track 9, firmly grounded in early church music yet harmonically contemporary, is his own composition.

I like this collection for the vast span of time it covers and the unusual variety of sources and countries from which it draws. I also enjoy the unexpected pieces: From Spain, instead of the ubiquitous "Riu, riu, chiu" we hear Victoria’s "O Magnum Mysterium" (O, Great Mystery), a responsorial chant from the Christmas Matins, reminiscent of Tallis’s Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter; From the Russian Orthodox Liturgy, Rachmaninov’s Bogoroditse Devo (Rejoice, Virgin Bearer of God) is an unusual and welcome addition; And from Ireland, the traditional "Beannacht Leat A Mhuire", (Praise to you, O Mary), is a beautiful blessing at any time of year.

The accompanying booklet has credits and all the words, but — and this is my only minor complaint — there is no information about the pieces themselves, which is too bad in such a varied and unique collection.

Miguel Muelle


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