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A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury
rec. live, Chapel of Kings College, Cambridge, 24 December 2008
Texts enclosed
Track-Listing at end of review
EMI CLASSICS 50999 6860822 [54:53 + 34:58]
Experience Classicsonline

The yearly broadcast of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s is for many the signal that Christmas has truly begun. This double CD is a live recording of the 2008 service and includes the customary mixture of the familiar and not so familiar, all carefully chosen to focus the mind and spirit on this great festival of the Church’s year.
Once in Royal begins with a confidently sung treble solo taken at a flowing speed. Stephen Cleobury’s descant is a fine alternative to the better known Willcocks version. It is moving to hear the Reverend Ian Thompson’s voice in The Bidding Prayer because he has tragically passed away since this recording was made. This CD is a fitting tribute to his memory.
Peter Tranchell’s If you would hear the angels sing has an appealing lilt and is pleasantly tuneful, if not terribly memorable. Ravenscroft’s Remember, O thou man is slightly effortful, with a few tuning issues, but the performance displays an effective use of dynamic shading.
Philip Ledger’s arrangement of Angels from the realms is given a lively rendition, and In dulci jubilo immediately captures the dance spirit. Cleobury uses the King’s acoustic to great effect in Tavener’s The Lamb - an atmospheric performance.
In Howells’ luminous carol A Spotless Rose Joel Robinson - listed as a tenor rather than a baritone in this performance - sings the solo with control and idiomatic phrasing. The last cadence, one of the glories of Anglican Church music, is expertly paced. Berkeley’s I sing of a maiden contains some fine hushed singing.
Mary by Dominic Muldowney, words by Bertolt Brecht, was specially commissioned for the service. Cleobury coaxes some ravishing choral textures from his choir and the use of a distanced sub-chorus is particularly effective, harking back to Britten’s Hymn to the Virgin. Cleobury gives the performance plenty of space and shape – a lot of care obviously went into its preparation. This is a highlight of the disc for me.
In Rutter’s What sweeter music the trebles sound more confident, revelling in the work’s generous lyricism, and in Judith Weir’s Illuminare Jerusalem – another excellent King’s commission - the teasing final cadence is deliciously done. Alan Bullard’s Glory, alleluia to the Christ Child! is a suitably joyous and festive way to end the choir carols.
The recording quality is perfectly acceptable given that it is taken from a live BBC broadcast. All in all this is a fine souvenir of a memorable occasion.

Robert Costin


CD 1
Once in royal David's city (processional hymn)
Bidding Prayer - The Lord's Prayer - Blessing
If ye would hear the angels sing
First Lesson - Genesis 3
Remember, O thou man
Adam lay ybounden
Second lesson - Genesis 22
Angels from the realms of glory

Canticum Beatae Mariae Virginis seu Magnificat (Hamburg, 1602)
In dulci jubilo
Third Lesson - Isaiah 9
Nowell sing ye now
Unto us is born a Son
Fourth Lesson - Isaiah 11
The Lamb
A spotless rose
Fifth Lesson - St Luke 1
I sing of a maiden
Sixth Lesson - St Luke 2
Wither's rocking Hymn

 CD 2
What sweeter music
Seventh Lesson - St Luke 2
Infant holy, Infant lowly
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Eighth Lesson - St Matthew 2
Illuminare Jerusalem
Glory, alleluia to the Christ Child!
Ninth Lesson - St John 1
O come, all ye faithfull
Prayer & Blessing
Hark! The herald-angels sing
In dulci jubilo BWV 729


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