This live concert captures sacred festive favourites from Kiri
with special guests. To make it doubly attractive Warner have
given us both the DVD of the concert and the audio only on CD.
It’s an attractive package, especially at such an inexpensive
price, but your attitude to it will depend very much on how you
view the arrangements. They’re nearly all new ones by David Cullen:
only Peter Cornelius’s version of The Three Kings and Berlioz’s
Shepherds’ Farewell are given in their familiar forms.
All the other carols are re-orchestrated by Cullen. They’re all
quite consciously “sweet”, without being sickly, and they’re sometimes
a bit sentimental. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with
that approach any listener should approach this disc knowing that
most of what they hear will be unfamiliar. As a reference point,
if you like John Rutter’s arrangements of the traditional carols
then you’ll probably like these too.
Some of the arrangements are more successful than
others. The rustic, somewhat nostalgic orchestration of O
Come, O Come Emmanuel shows this carol in a light we’re
not used to from singing it in grand cathedrals. The arrangement
of There is no rose of such virtue is very appealing,
with a transparent treatment of the tune from Kiri set against
long melismas from the choir and a flowing orchestral accompaniment.
There is a fitting majesty to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,
while Silent Night has a touching simplicity. On the
other hand, the added strings detract from Bach’s harmonisation
of O Little One Sweet, and In the Bleak Midwinter
is rather too sentimental for my taste. Most successful,
on the whole, is The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy, which
embraces its Caribbean roots enthusiastically through an infectious
rhythm and a hyperactive xylophone player.
The performances are well suited to the music throughout.
Kiri looks very festive in a red and gold dress, and her voice
sounds smashing. She is a bit swoopy in the Coventry Carol
that opens the concert; some unnecessary glissandi mar this
piece. For the faster numbers, however, she sounds superb,
not least in The Holly and the Ivy, which has a well
judged interaction between soloist and choir with subtle accompaniment
from the orchestra. Kiri’s rich, creamy voice rides the wave
of the orchestra with assurance, and the acoustic of the cathedral
complements her voice. Credit should go to the sound engineers
for capturing it so well. If her contribution is strong, however,
then that of baritone Michael George is even more distinguished.
He has a resonant voice which suits the grandeur of the surroundings
while providing a good contrast with his colleague. In particular
his voice enriches the texture of O Come, O Come Emmanuel,
though Joy to the World feels a bit underpowered because
he sings it as a solo – surely this of all carols needs a choir.
His duet with Timothy Norris suits Good King Wenceslas
very well. The other soloist is virtuoso trumpet player Jouko
Harjanne whose contributions really sparkle. He makes Ding
Dong Merrily on High feel like a dazzling trumpet concerto,
while he really adds something to O Tannenbaum when he
duets with Kiri. He doesn’t appear often, but he is a pleasure
when he does.
The orchestra all play with precision and clarity,
and the frequent solo contributions sound very good indeed.
The DVD contains Cullen’s Carol Fantasy, an entertaining
medley of familiar tunes that sits comfortably in the symphonic
tradition of Vaughan Williams and Hely-Hutchinson’s similar
works. For some reason it isn’t included on the CD; it’s hard
to know why as there would have been ample space for it.
The camera work is straightforward and entirely fitting:
the chief focus, naturally enough, is the soloists, but we also
get plenty of shots of the choir and the instrumental soloists
in the orchestra. We don’t see the conductor very often, but
that’s not cause to complain as his gestures are very distracting
when he does feature. There are surprisingly few shots of the
cathedral itself, though, save a few glances at the mighty tapestry
of Christ in Glory and a few specialist shots of the
pre-war remains filmed for the opening and closing credits.
All in all this is perfectly serviceable Christmas
fare, though it’s also quite forgettable. I think I'll still
be going back to the carol arrangements I've grown up with,
but at this budget price this package would certainly make a