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Christmas Now is Drawing Near
Sneak's Noyse (Roddy Skeaping, Lucie Skeaping, Jeremy Barlow, Robin Jeffrey, Mike Brain) with Ray Attfield (voice, hurdy-gurdy, drum), Tim Laycock (voice, concertinas, melodeon)
rec. April 1988, The Meeting House, Frenchay, Bristol, UK. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Christmas Now is Drawing Near (Advent) [05:02]
(Oh, Christmas now is drawing near at hand; We've been awhile a-wandering; The Waits)
Sweet Jesus born (The Nativity) [07:35]
(Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child; Good people all, this Christmastime; Sweet was the song the Virgin sang)
Down in Yon Forest (Christmas Legends) [09:52]
(As I sat on a sunny bank; Down in yon forest; The holly and the ivy; Joseph was an old man; Cold was the day when in a garden bare)
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day (Carol(e) Roots) [10:03]
(English Dance; Angelus ad virginem; Hail Mary ful of grace; Tomorrow shall be my dancing day; The Furry Day Carol)
Cold winter is come (Plenty and Poverty) [10:36]
(The boar's head in hand bear I; Fy, nay, prithee John; Cold winter is come; Deck the halls with boughs of holly; All hail to the days; As it fell out upon one day)
Remember, O thou man (The Christian message) [05:09]
(Remember, O thou man; On Christmas night all Christians sing; This is the truth sent from above)
God send ypu a happy New Year (Farewell to Christmas) [04:58]
(The old year now away is fled; Here we come a-wassailing; God bless you merry, gentlemen; Oh, Christmas now)

It is almost Christmas, and that means that many popular Christmas carols will be performed in concerts and in the open air. They can be heard in many shapes, by soloists, vocal ensembles, college and cathedral choirs and even by orchestras and opera singers. But how are these carols really meant to be sung? It is easy to look down on tasteless arrangements, and many people prefer the carols as they are sung by the best choirs in Britain. But we should not forget that most carols sung by the cathedral choirs of this country are also arrangements.

This disc presents a number of carols, some of which are well-known, not only in Britain, but world-wide. But there is very little chance you will have heard them as they are performed by the singers and players of Sneak's Noyse. Carols like 'The holly and the ivy' or 'God bless you merry, gentlemen' show many differences in melody, rhythm and harmony from the way they are usually performed. The style of singing is quite different as well, much closer to that of folk music. In addition instruments are used which one also won't see on a platform during a choral concert with Christmas carols, like triangle, cittern, drum, hurdy-gurdy, concertinas and melodeon. These are not used indiscriminately: the artists know what they are doing, and don't use the concertinas in carols from the renaissance, like 'Angelus ad virginem'.

Many carols are printed in collections put together in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That was the time many people got vividly interested in traditional music, not only in Britain but also elsewhere. I assume one not only needs to do some research but also to use one's imagination to try to figure out how these carols should be performed, as many of them are much older than the time they were published. It seems to me the musicians have done a fine job here, and to hear well-known pieces in such an uncommon interpretation is very interesting and musically enthralling. This is also due to the general level of playing and singing.

The pieces are presented in thematic groups; every subject is one track, so I couldn't give the timing for every single piece. The booklet gives detailed information about every single piece and its likely origin. In addition to the popular pieces I referred to above there are also lesser-known items. This mixture of popular and little-known music is one of the attractions of this disc. It is a bit of a shame that the booklet doesn't give the lyrics, though.

If you are looking for something uncommon to listen to during Christmas time, this could be it. You won't be bored, that's for sure.

Johan van Veen


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