Once in Royal David’s City, vv1-5
MANN, v6 arr. by David
Coventry Carol – English trad.
Ding dong! Merrily on high –
16thc, arr. David
Away in a manger arr. Gary
Sir Christèmas [1:36]
O little town of Bethlehem –
English trad. arr. R
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS. Descant
by Thomas ARMSTRONG
The First Nowell – English trad.
Nowell sing we [Commissioned
by Truro Cathedral - First recording]
Sans Day Carol – Cornish
trad. arr. John
O come all ye faithful – 18thc,
Adam lay ybounden [1:19]
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day–
Rejoice, Rejoice [First recording]
The Angel Gabriel – Old Basque,
See amid the winter’s snow –
The Truth from above – English
trad. arr, R
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS [2:31]
Angels, from the realms of glory–
French trad. arr. Charles
While Shepherds watched – Este’s
Psalter, 1592, v4 arr. Christopher
Christians awake! v4 arr. Christopher
Hark! the Herald angels sing arr.
We wish you a merry Christmas
– West Country
trad. arr. Arthur
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
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!