Jingle Wells: Christmas Carols from Wells Cathedral
James PIERPONT (arr. Ralph Allwood)
Jingle Bells [2:02]
John RUTTER
*The Star Carol [3:07]
*Candlelight Carol [5:22]
Philip LEDGER
*The Voice of the Angel Gabriel [3:52]
*On Christmas Night (Sussex Carol) (arr.) [1:59]
Matthew OWENS
*The Holly and the Ivy [3:12]
Peter WARLOCK
Bethlehem Down [5:48]
Elizabeth POSTON
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree [3:26]
Kenneth LEIGHTON
Lully, Lulla, Thou Little Tiny Child [3:15]
David WILLCOCKS (arr.)
The Infant King (Basque NoŽl) [4:16]
Eric WHITACRE
Lux Aurumque [4:26]
Mack WILBERG (arr.)
*Ding Dong! Merrily on High [2:04]
Myron J ROBERTS
*13 Improvisations on 'God Rest you Merry, Gentlemen' [5:27]
Peter GRITTON
Follow that Star [1:58]
Owain PARK
**Cradle Lullaby [3:51]
W J KIRKPATRICK (arr. David Willcocks)
Away in a Manger [2:57]
Mel TORM… and Robert WELLS (arr. Peter Gritton)
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) [3:22]
Franz GRUBER (arr. Matthew Owens)
Silent Night [1:56]
*Jonathan Vaughn (organ)
**Owain Park (organ)
Wells Cathedral Choir/Matthew Owens
rec. Wells Cathedral, 24-26 April 2012. DDD
REGENT REGCD 399 [62:17]
 
Spring was in the air when the excellent Wells Cathedral Choir assembled to record this festive CD, but everyone involved makes a good job of imagining snowy fields, glittery Christmas trees and holly-decked halls, and projecting that seasonal mixture of joyfulness and solemnity in their performances.
 
The sacred and secular programme includes some old chestnuts that no Christmas CD would dare be without - Jingle Bells, Away in a Manger, Ding Dong Merrily - but also dares to be a bit different, with songs rarer and new. There is a nice selection of true modern classics, for example - Peter Warlock's Bethlehem Down, Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque and John Rutter's Candlelight Carol. Philip Ledger's The Voice of the Angel Gabriel receives its first recording, and an instant classic of its kind it is, especially as sung by the choir he wrote it for. Cradle Lullaby, written by Owain Park, Wells Cathedralís Senior Organ Scholar, touchingly celebrates the birth of Matthew Owens' first child. Owens is Cathedral Organist and Master of the Choristers, and he also provides a sparkling Rutteresque arrangement of another old favourite, The Holly and the Ivy.
 
There is a single instrumental, Myron Roberts's stirring Improvisations on 'God Rest you Merry, Gentlemen', suavely played by Jonathan Vaughn. Of the songs, a number are a cappella settings, and it must be said that the singing is excellent, children and men alike. Unlike many similar recordings - even by famous cathedral choirs - no one slips slightly out of time and there are no trebles singing marginally flat. The Wells even gives an appealing rendition of Away in a Manger, which so many choirs and congregations unfailingly turn into a dirge.
 
One minor quibble is the ordering of items, which seems to have been left to a machine, giving six consecutive unaccompanied songs in the middle. Also, Robert Wells's Christmas Song perhaps lowers the tone a bit, but at least it should go down well on Christmas morning with Granny and Aunt Mabel. Incidentally, EMI issued a festive compilation by a different Robert Wells a few years ago, also called 'Jingle Wells'. Suffice to say Wells is Sweden's answer to Andrť Rieu - caveat emptor!
 
Sound quality here is very good, with just a minimal amount of background hiss, although recording levels are amazingly low. Matthew Owensí fine notes take the listener track by track through the music, and the sung texts are thoughtfully provided in full. Biographies/histories are informative and the cover appropriately gaudy.
 
Of its kind, it is hard to imagine a better Christmas CD. Profits from this bargain-priced disc will fund bursaries for Wells Cathedral choristers from poorer backgrounds.
 
Byzantion
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
 
Hard to imagine a better Christmas CD.