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Christmas from Truro

Truro Cathedral Choir/Robert Sharpe

Christopher Gray (organ)

rec. Truro Cathedral, 28-29 January 2008

REGENT REGCD281 [65:03]

Experience Classicsonline

Once in Royal David’s City, vv1-5 harm. A.H. MANN, v6 arr. by David WILLCOCKS [4:45]
Coventry Carol – English trad. arr. Martin SHAW [2:24]
Ding dong! Merrily on high – 16thc, arr. David WILLCOCKS [2:22]
William KIRKPATRICK Away in a manger arr. Gary COLE [2:36]
William MATHIAS Sir Christèmas [1:36]
O little town of Bethlehem – English trad. arr. R VAUGHAN WILLIAMS. Descant by Thomas ARMSTRONG [3:22]
The First Nowell – English trad. arr. David WILLCOCKS [5:19]
Gabriel Jackson Nowell sing we [Commissioned by Truro Cathedral - First recording] [1:55]
Sans Day CarolCornish trad. arr. John RUTTER [3:02]
O come all ye faithful – 18thc, arr. David WILLCOCKS [6:16]
Boris ORD Adam lay ybounden [1:19]
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day– English trad. arr. David WILLCOCKS [1:56]
Howard SKEMPTON Rejoice, Rejoice [First recording] [2:05]
The Angel Gabriel – Old Basque, arr. PETTMAN [2:28]
See amid the winter’s snowJohn GOSS, arr. Barry ROSE [6:01]
The Truth from above – English trad. arr, R VAUGHAN WILLIAMS [2:31]
Angels, from the realms of glory– French trad. arr. Charles WOOD [4:08]
While Shepherds watchedEste’s Psalter, 1592, v4 arr. Christopher GRAY [2:27]
John WAINWRIGHT Christians awake! v4 arr. Christopher GRAY [3:34]
Felix MENDELSSOHN Hark! the Herald angels sing arr. David WILLCOCKS [3:11]
We wish you a merry Christmas – West Country trad. arr. Arthur WARRELL [1:43]

This CD ranks as my current preferred Christmas Carol recording for three reasons. Firstly, Truro is one of my favourite Cathedrals in the country, secondly the repertoire is based on good, old solid favourite arrangements from ‘Carols for Choirs’ and lastly the quality of the singing is superb – in spite of the fact the this is a politically incorrect all-male choir! Let me expand.

I first went to Truro Cathedral some thirty-seven years ago. A friend and I had gone to stay with his auntie in St. Ives with the intention of exploring the land of the Pirates of Penzance – which we had just finished performing at Coatbridge High School. Of course we did not find the manor of the ‘Very Model of a Modern Major General’ or the pirates’ hideout – but we did discover a number of fine public houses serving St Austell’s Ale! One day we went to Truro and explored the town and the Cathedral. I was bowled over by this relatively new ‘gothic’ building- having been designed and built by John Loughborough Pearson in the late eighteen hundreds. Then there was the fine Willis organ to impress a young lad. At that time I was an adherent of the Church of Scotland, however after hearing Evensong at Truro, I had taken the first step on the road to becoming a High-Church Anglican!

In the early seventies, the grammar school had a choir – which used to perform at the end of term Carol Service –and at a number of other times during the year. I think they were called the Junior and Senior Ensembles. At that time I was also singing in my local church choir. In both these venues the music of choice at Christmas were the green and orange ‘Carols for Choirs’ series –edited by David Willcocks, Reginald Jacques and John Rutter. They have become, along with the later blue book, volume three, the ‘quintessential’ benchmark for carol singers. On this present CD many of the carols – about two-thirds - have been mined from these books. They are favourite arrangements that are known and loved by both churched and un-churched people across the country. They are surely part of the fabric of Christmas.

This CD gives these essential arrangements of Once in royal David’s city, O come all ye faithful (with all the verses!), Hark the herald angels sing, The First Nowell and many more.

The novelty value on this CD is given by Nowell sing we: each year the Cathedral commissions a new carol for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols and in 2006 it was the privilege of Gabriel Jackson to provide the music. For this piece the composer harks back to a medieval form of verse and refrain to produce what is a satisfying and timeless offering.

It is good to see William Mathias’s Sir Christèmas with its ‘jaunty, boisterous text and music’ included in this selection. It was, I recall in the ‘orange’ book along with Rutter’s Sans Day Carol. Both these songs have become classics.

There is a danger in any Carol Concert of two things. Firstly an out and out attempt to mimic the perfection of Kings College Cambridge. Alas, this more often that not turns out to be a parody rather than complimentary. The other tendency can be to over sentimentalise the music, sugar coat it, if you like. This is perhaps worse that trying to emulate a great choir. However, the reality is that Christmas is not just about a tiny baby lying wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger, but also about the coming of the Risen Christ. Remember the words that Handel used in his Messiah – "But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire." There is, therefore, also a place in Christmas music for something more positive and less sanitised about the singing. I feel that this all-male choir- both boys and men- make this balance to perfection. The bottom line is that there is nothing overtly sentimental about these performances - in fact they are typically robust but also tender where the mood requires it. Certainly the last number, We Wish you a merry Christmas, has all the panache of carol singers in the Dickensian Street-scene.

The programme notes by Robert Sharpe are quite extensive for a Carol concert and, more pertinently, the words of all the carols are given in full. All in all, this a fine production that both inspires and impresses. I shall certainly be listening to this CD over the Season!

John France


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