This disc is the companion release of The King’s Singers’ Christmas DVD that was reviewed
for this site by Simon Thompson. It is also the group’s second Christmas CD on Signum Classics. The first was King's Singers Christmas
(SIGCD502), a studio album of remarkable depth and beauty that remains among the finest collections of carols for advent I have ever heard. If you don’t already own that disc you should order it without delay and in priority to this new one.
Which is not to say that this new disc is unworthy. Far from it. Where the studio album from 2003 is inward, serious and contemplative, this new album – recorded live in concert around this time last year – is necessarily more gregarious. Its programme is also more varied in mood and tone. Interestingly, where the new disc sings the sacred there is considerable overlap with the earlier disc – 6 tracks in all. It is interesting to compare the alternative readings of the same songs, especially given that only counter-tenor David Hurley, tenor Paul Phoenix and baritone Philip Lawson remain of the 2003 line up. Generally the studio recordings are slightly to be preferred, though the new version of The Crown of Roses
is indisputably more dramatic, thanks in part to the contribution of new counter-tenor Timothy Wayne-Wright. Jonathan Howard, the new bass, is lighter in tone that his predecessor Stephen Connolly – an observation rather than a criticism. What amazes is just how consistent the sound of this group is. Their balance, clarity and sensitivity to text remain unsurpassed.
The gentle beauty of the arrangements and settings by Rutter and baritone Philip Lawson are among the highlights of this collection. Lawson’s setting of the medieval English text, Lullay my Liking
is particularly gorgeous. The Saint-Saëns part-song was an unexpected treat. It was also nice to hear Bob Chilcott’s ostinato-driven arrangement of Greensleeves
turning up with different lyrics as What Child is This?
The opening and closing tracks, too, are old friends – upbeat winners that a very different King’s Singers line-up recorded in 1973 on their EMI Christmas album, Deck the Hall
(now only available as an ArkivCD
). In fact, the two closing tracks in particular bring the programme to a close with brilliant and witty arrangements - “endearingly madcap” is Simon Thompson’s apt phrase - brilliantly and wittily sung.
I do have reservations about one track though, and it happens to be the longest. I have no doubt that, live in concert, The King’s Singers’ performance of The Twelve Days of Christmas
spiced with the ‘thank you’ letters penned by John Norwich, would have been hilarious. The giggling audience, hardly audible for the first half of the album, prove that Christmas pudding. My issue is not with the humour of the piece – it is pretty funny – but with its placement on a Christmas CD that is likely to get repeated play over the next month. It is a track that most listeners will, after a couple of listenings, want to skip.
In his review of The King’s Singers’ Christmas DVD
, Simon indicated that the visual element was not really necessary to that studio-style recording, and in fact that the images used were not always apposite to the music being sung. Here the reverse is the case. The King’s Singers are not just singers. They are performers, and with an audience before them their concerts are visually as well as musically interesting. Filming this concert for release on DVD would have enhanced the charms and comedy of The Twelve Days
with the visual humour that the group must have deployed.
Minor carping aside, this is an eminently enjoyable release that will please fans of The King’s Singers and lovers of Christmas music alike.
1. Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow
– Traditional, arr. Carl Davis [2:40]
2. Gabriel’s Message
– Edgar Pettiman [2:43]
3. Noël Nouvelet
– Traditional, arr. Philip Lawson [2:25]
4. What Child is This?
– Traditional / William Chatterton Dix, arr. Bob Chilcott [3:17]
5. The Crown of Roses
– Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, arr. Jeremy Lubbock [3:06]
6. O Little One Sweet
– Traditional, harmonised J.S. Bach [2:17]
7. Lullay My Liking
– Philip Lawson [4:25]
8. Stille Nacht
– Franz Gruber / Joseph Mohr, arr. John Rutter [3:22]
9. The Quiet Heart
– June Collin / James Morgan [2:29]
10. There is a Flower
– John Rutter [3:43]
11. Joy to the World
– Lowell Mason / Isaac Watts, arr. Philip Lawson [2:32]
12. Sérénade d’hiver
– Camille Saint-Saëns [5:17]
13. The Twelve Days of Christmas
– Traditional, arr. Geoffrey Keating, featuring John Julius Norwich’s “A Correspondence” [9:02]
– Traditional, arr. Brian Kay [1:37]
15. God Rest You Merry Gentlemen
– Traditional, arr. Geoffrey Keating [2:57]
16. The Little Drummer Boy
– Katherine K. Davis / Henry Onorati / Harry Simeone, arr. John McCarthy [2:45]
17. Jingle Bells
– James Lord Pierpont, arr. Gordon Langford [1:30]
18. Deck the Hall with Boughs of Holly
– Traditional / Thomas Oliphant, arr. Gordon Langford [2:29]