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Christmas from Gloucester: See Amid The Winter Snow
Gloucester Cathedral Choir/John Sanders
Mark Lee (organ)
rec. Gloucester Cathedral, January 1991. DDD
English texts included
GRIFFIN GCCD 4066 [58:00]

Experience Classicsonline

John SANDERS (1922-2003) Tomorrow shall be my dancing day [2:21]
Franz GRÜBER, arr. Blatchly Silent Night [3:06]
Michael HEAD (1900-1976) The Three Mummers [3:57]
C16th French tune, harm. WOOD Ding dong! merrily on high [1:55]
Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973) I sing of a Maiden [2:26]
John GOSS (1800-1880) See amid the winter`s snow [4:06]
Peter ASTON (b. 1933) There is no rose [2:57]
French Trad, arr SANDERS Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing? [3:34]
John TAVENER (b. 1944) The Lamb [2:49]
Graham HYSLOP A carol of praise [2:37]
H J GAUNTLETT (1805-1876) arr Willcocks Once in royal David`s City [2:06]
English Trad, arr SANDERS Blessed be that maid Mary [2:33]
Gerald HENDRIE (b. 1935) As I outrode [1:38]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Sing lullaby [3:33]
John SANDERS Carol for Today [2:12]
German tune, harm. J. S. BACH (1685-1750) O little one sweet [2:56]
Eng. Trad, arr SULLIVAN/WILLCOCKS It came upon a midnight clear [2:19]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988) Hymn of the Nativity [6:42]
Henry WALFORD DAVIES (1869-1941) O little town of Bethlehem [3:06]
John IRELAND (1879-1962) A New Year Carol [1:12]

Thereís an old saying that you shouldnít judge a book by its covers and sometimes that applies to CDs too. When I saw the booklet cover of this disc Iím afraid its design and title led me to assume that this would be "just another collection of favourite carols." Well some of the old favourites are there, to be sure, but thereís enough novelty in the programme to spice things up nicely.

When I came to live in Gloucester in 1986 Dr. John Sanders was already long established as Director of Music at the Cathedral Ė though in those days I think the title was simply Organist Ė heíd been in post since 1967 (and had been Assistant Organist there between 1956 and 1963.) He served the cathedral with distinction until his retirement in 1994 and though I never knew him personally he was a very popular and highly regarded figure. This disc gives a welcome reminder of the fine work that he did with the cathedral choir.

It also demonstrates his skill as a composer and arranger. His version of Tomorrow shall be my dancing day opens proceedings. Itís a most effective setting, in which the music truly dances, propelled by a strong rhythmic impulse. The melody is a fine one too. The booklet prints eleven verses Ė as used in Holstís magnificent setting of the same text Ė but only the first four are sung here and Iím unsure if this is all Sanders set or whether an abridged version has been recorded. I also liked Carol for Today, which sets a thoughtful text to a good tune. The Sanders arrangement of Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing? is discerning and sympathetic and Blessed be that maid Mary, while it may not break any new ground, is in the best traditions of English choral music.

Among the items that may be less familiar Michael Headís The Three Mummers is most enjoyable. This little piece demonstrates Headís characteristic melodic felicity and his empathy for words. Peter Astonís There is no rose is an atmospheric piece which goes off into some unexpected and interesting harmonic directions. The same description might be applied fairly to Leightonís Hymn of the Nativity, which is the most complex piece in the programme, and a very fine one. The unnamed treble soloist has a demanding part to sing and he delivers it with distinction and, indeed, the whole choir does this difficult piece very well. No such recital from Gloucester Cathedral would be complete without some Howells and Iím delighted that the lovely Sing lullaby has been chosen rather than the ubiquitous A Spotless Rose, much though I love the latter piece. Sandersí choir sings Sing lullaby with evident dedication.

The tried and trusted items give pleasure too. The arrangement of Silent Night is by Mark Blatchly, who was, I believe, Mark Leeís immediate predecessor as Sandersí assistant. Itís a skilful arrangement though Iíve never quite understood why, after setting the first two verses in English, he switches to German for the last stanza Ė and itís printed in English in the booklet. O little town of Bethlehem finds a deserved place, too, but itís nice to find Walford Daviesí lovely tune is employed for a change Ė another excellent treble solo in verse three, by the way. And to complete the roster of treble solos, thereís a fine example at the start of Once in royal David`s City, which Sanders takes at a nice flowing tempo.

But for all the excellent settings on this programme, nobody does it better than Bach. His harmonisation of the old German tune, known to us in English translation as O little one sweet, is a gem and itís beautifully performed here.

Throughout the recital the singing of the choir gives a good deal of pleasure. The blend isnít always perfectly homogenous Ė some male voices stand out at times Ė but this is by no means a major issue and the quality of the singing is a fine tribute to the skill of John Sanders as a choral trainer. Mark Lee, who was at that time the cathedralís assistant organist, contributes some excellent accompaniments. The acoustic of Gloucester Cathedral is a very reverberant one but the engineers have done a good job. Both choir and organ are well reported and the acoustic adds to the ambience.

This very good recital of seasonal music is most enjoyable. Happy Christmas from Gloucester!

John Quinn


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