Sleep, Holy Babe - A Collection of Christmas
Lullabies Alexander CAMPKIN (b. 1984) Sleep,
Holy Babe (2005)*[4:10] Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) A Lullaby*
[3:06] Pierre de MANCHICOURT (c 1510-1564)
O Emmanuel* [3:49] Anthony MUDGE (b. 1974) O magnum
mysterium* [3:30] Trevor LING (b. 1933) Magnificat*
[3:38] Hilary CAMPBELL (b. 1983) Sleep,
my dreaming one* [5:01] Basque trad. arr. Jonathan RATHBONE
(b. 1957) Sing Lullaby* [4:51] Richard PYGOTT (1484-1549) Quid
petis, O Fili? [9:39] David BEVAN (b. 1951) Magnificat
[4:58] John DUGGAN (b. 1963) O Babe,
born bare [2:54] Daniel BURGES (b. 1975) Coventry
Carol* [4:02] Francis POTT (b. 1957) Lullay,
my liking (2004) [7:29]
rec. St. Sepulchre-Without-Newgate, London. 25-27 March 2011 DDD
Original texts and English translations included
Denotes first recording
NAXOS 8.572868 [57:07]
The pieces on this CD are taken from a collection of seventeen
items of music for Advent and Christmas, published under the
same title by Shorter
House in 2010. Several of the pieces recorded here were
written specially for that new collection. The items by de Manchicourt
and Pygott have been edited for publication by Tom Shorter.
The disc features Blossom Street, an ensemble of nineteen young
singers (6/4/4/5), which I’ve not encountered previously. The
group was formed in 2003 by Hilary Campbell, herself a singer
as well as a conductor and composer.
There’s some very interesting material on the disc. The opening
piece by Alexander Campkin is a lovely setting of words by Edward
Caswall (1814-1878). I think it will have wide appeal both to
singers and listeners. My only criticism would be that the musical
material is too similar in all of its four stanzas. Anthony
Mudge contributes an effective setting of O magnum mysterium,
which features some interesting harmonies and progressions.
Mudge evokes a sense of awe, which any successful setting of
these words has to achieve.
I was very taken with Daniel Burges’ response to the Coventry
Carol. In an enterprising composition Burges uses the familiar
melody but, as it says in the notes, he “weaves [it] through
all the voices”. I thought this approach was very clever. The
listener can recognise the melody but it’s not quite as usual.
It’s as if the composer keeps tantalisingly drawing a veil momentarily
over the tune and then revealing it again. Burges displays a
good understanding of voices in his writing.
Also impressive is the piece by Francis Pott. This is one of
the items not specially written for the occasion: he composed
it for St John’s College, Cambridge in 2004. It’s a very expressive
setting, making notable use of solo voices at times. As I’ve
found before with vocal works by this very interesting composer,
his use of choral textures is most imaginative.
The collection includes two faux-bourdon settings of
the Magnificat and by a strange coincidence both composers,
Trevor Ling and David Bevan, have past connections with Westminster
Cathedral; the former as a bass in the choir and the latter
as Assistant Master of the Music. Bevan’s setting is the more
elaborate in its harmonised verses, where the writing is in
eight parts. Ling’s harmonised verses are in four parts and
in a simpler style. Both are effective settings of the Canticle.
Also effective is Jonathan Rathbone’s arrangement of Sing
Lullaby. This is such a familiar Christmas piece, of course,
and it’s good to hear it in a different guise, though Rathbone
has successfully kept faith with the familiar while being his
own man. The arrangement is mainly smooth in style – Rathbone
was once the director of the Swingle Singers – and perhaps it’s
a bit too smooth at “Soon comes the cross, the nails,
the piercing.” Overall, however, I liked this new take on an
Not all the music is new or even recent. As an ardent admirer
of Finzi’s work I was intrigued and excited by the prospect
of hearing a first recording. In his magisterial biography of
the composer (Gerald Finzi. An English Composer (1997))
Stephen Banfield points out that this is Finzi’s sole folksong
setting. It’s dates from 1942 and uses a translation of a Greek
poem by M D Calvocoressi. Banfield describes the piece as “not
very successful”, largely because the English translation of
the words is “awkward”. It was unpublished at the time that
the Banfield book was written so I presume that it now appears
in print for the first time in the Shorter House collection.
It was interesting to hear but it’s a slight work and not terribly
The two Renaissance works offer good contrast with the contemporary
music. The piece by the Franco-Flemish composer, de Manchicourt,
is in four parts. The polyphony sounds a bit dense in this performance;
I’d have welcomed a bit more clarity in the delivery of the
various strands of the music. The choir is more effective in
the setting by Richard Pygott. This is an interesting piece,
which alternates quite elaborate refrains for full choir – in
Latin – with verses in English, which are suing by what sounds
like a one-to-a-part consort. This piece is imaginatively sung,
with good variety in the dynamics.
The choir sings well. Their diction is good and there’s a pleasing
freshness to the tone. In one or two pieces I thought the choral
sound was too biased towards the treble end of the spectrum;
on those occasions a little more firmness in the bass line would
have been welcome. Overall, however, the singing is very enjoyable.
This is an enjoyable and enterprising collection, which works
on two fronts. It’s a nice disc in its own right, offering some
welcome new listening for the Christmas season. In addition,
it’s a good showcase for the book of music with which it’s linked
and I hope that will stimulate interest from choir directors
and lead to some of these pieces taking their place in the repertoire
of choirs that like a challenge and something different. There
is far more substance to this collection of music than the inappropriately
twee picture on the front of the booklet might suggest.
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