Plum Pudding
Wassail Song (trad. arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams)
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611) O Magnum Mysterium
William BYRD (c.1543-1623) This Day Christ Was Born
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988) Lully, Lullay
Rhian SAMUEL (b. 1944) Jolly Wat the Shepherd
Max REGER (1873-1916) Virgin Mary's Slumber-Song (arr. Peter Broadbent)
Peter CORNELIUS (1824-1874) The Three Kings (arr. Ivor Atkins)
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981) Twelfth Night
Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599) Virgen Sancta
Esta Noche (trad. arr. Andrew Carter)
The Holly and the Ivy (trad. arr. Walford Davies)
Deck the Hall (trad. arr. Peter Broadbent )
The Twelve Days of Christmas (trad. arr. Andrew Carter)
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787-1863) Silent Night
Readings: John Clare: 'December'; 'God’s Speech' [from: The Wakefield Plays]; Anon: 'I Sing of a Maiden'; TS Eliot: 'The Journey of the Magi'; Laurie Lee: 'Christmas in Seville' (excerpt); Dylan Thomas: 'Memories of Christmas'; EV Lucas: 'Christmas Decorations'; John Julius Norwich: 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'; Capt. RJ Armes: 'Christmas Truce (A Letter)'; Leonard Clark: 'Singing in the Streets'
Felicity Lott (soprano)
Gabriel Woolf (reader)
Joyful Company of Singers/Peter Broadbent
rec. Music Room, Champs Hill, Sussex, 30 November 2002. DDD

This festive CD was originally released on the ASV White Line (CD WHL 2150) in 2003, and repackaged and reissued last year by Champs Hill. It goes without saying that it is still widely available on the internet, and doubtless will be for many Christmases to come!

Though the CD itself does not advertise the fact, Plum Pudding consists of a mixture of unaccompanied songs and readings. The selection is generous and varied - "rich and well-spiced fare", as the liner-notes put it - spanning four centuries and mainly but not exclusively British in origin. This is also a live recording, as becomes quite patent with the audience laughter and applause during Dylan Thomas's 'Memories of Christmas'.

Felicity Lott's star billing - compounded by a double-page biography in the booklet, as much as Woolf and the Joyful Company combined - is understandable in marketing terms but unfair to prospective buyers and to her fellow performers: she does not appear until track 6, and then only sings on four or five tracks in all. Most of the singing is multi-part and done - done beautifully (though the 'Fith day of Christmas' is a bit of a jar) - by the Joyful Company of Singers directed by Peter Broadbent. Gabriel Woolf's acting talents are put to good use, and his readings, though manifestly 'stagy', are likely to appeal to all and sundry - with the possible exception of his rather luvvy rendition of John Julius Norwich's dated 'Twelve Days of Christmas'. His regional accents too, it must be said, are a little lacking in authenticity: though he makes a reasonable attempt at a Northamptonshire accent for John Clare's poem, his Swansea lilt for Thomas's 'Memories of Christmas' is a bit on the 'ropy' side, and his vowels an approximation that locals may find comical. Similarly his accent for the reading from the Wakefield Mystery Plays, though poignantly done, is a generic northern one much favoured by southerners.

The CD booklet has a brief note on every item, but that is about as good as it gets: apart from the lack of dates and sometimes even names attached to composers and arrangers, the absence of song or poem texts is a big disappointment, and a puzzlement, given that there are no obvious copyright issues. Track timings are missing too, and the track-listing in small white text on a bright red background pushes legibility close to the limits. There are a couple of carnal typos as well, such as 'da Victoria' and 'T S Elliot'. However, some leniency should be shown at Christmas, and sound quality is very good, as it almost invariably is at Champs Hill. This is a CD which, like plum pudding, is best consumed at Christmas, but as festive CDs go, it is certainly one of the most appetising.

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see also review by Ian Lace

Best consumed at Christmas, but as festive CDs go, it is certainly one of the most appetising.