Christmas from Rochester
H. J. GAUNTLETT (1805-1876)
Once in Royal David's City (arr. A H Mann) [5:12]
Carson COOMAN (b.1982)
Adam Lay Ybounden [2:07]
Paul TREPTE (b.1954) (arr.)
People Look East [3:55]
Away in a Manger [3:11]
All Hail to the Days [2:14]
Deck the Hall [3:21]
John JOUBERT (b.1927)
There is no Rose [2:22]
Torches [1:41]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
I Sing of a Maiden [3:04]
David WILLCOCKS (b.1919) (arr.)
Of the Father's Heart Begotten [4:57]
God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen [3:45]
How Far is it to Bethlehem? [2:27]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) (arr.)
O Little Town of Bethlehem [4:11]
Robert Lucas de PEARSALL (1795-1856) (arr.)
In Dulci Jubilo [3:33]
Bob CHILCOTT (b.1955)
Mid-Winter [4:40]
The Night He Was Born [5:48]
Where Riches is Everlastingly [2:33]
Andrew CARTER (b.1939)
Make we Merry [1:27]
Peter CORNELIUS (1824-1874)
The Three Kings (arr. Ivor Atkins) [2:35]
Samuel RATHBONE (b.1986)
Child of the Stable's Secret Birth [7:02]
J. F. WADE (18th century)
O Come, All Ye Faithful (arr. David Willcocks) [4:38]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Hark! the Herald-Angels Sing [4:08]
Choir of Rochester Cathedral/Scott Farrell and Samuel Rathbone
Samuel Rathbone, Roger Sayer, Dan Soper (organ)
rec. Rochester Cathedral, England, 16-20 May 2011. DDD
REGENT REGCD 379 [78:52]
 
The Cathedral Choir at Rochester has a long and illustrious history, but this, their latest Christmas album - actually recorded last year in summer! - is not one for the annals.
 
'Once in Royal David's City' gets the disc off to a worrying start. The boy treble solo who sings the first verse has a diction contorted to the degree that he sounds like someone trying to pull off a stereotypical Chinese accent. He is also recorded at an absurdly low volume, ostensibly to allow Regent's engineers to accommodate the full chorus and loud organ that the carol builds up to. It is also evident at this stage that the choir is not perfectly blended - one or two voices stand out too much. After Carson Cooman's 'Adam Lay Ybounden', a boisterous un-carol-like song with a feisty organ accompaniment, changes the tone entirely and rather too abruptly, the boy singer who opens the following 'People Look East' is breathless and uncontrolled and frankly should not have been given a solo.
 
In truth, the recording never entirely recovers from this wobbly start. Sound quality is acceptable, but always gives the impression of mp3 lossiness, and there is a technical blip in 'Of the Father's Heart Begotten'. Though there is some decent singing from the menís choir, the same may not be said of the boys, who struggle to find discipline at times, resulting in slack enunciation, misjudged phrasing, imperfect ensemble and occasional questionable pronunciation - in 'In Dulci Jubilo' some of the choir at least seem to think that 'shew' should rhyme with 'shoe'. The soloist at the start of 'Away in a Manger' is startlingly bad - he can even be heard to sing the ungrammatical "The stars in the bright sky/ Looks down where he lay...". The Choir's directors, Scott Farrell and Samuel Rathbone, must shoulder much of the blame.
 
Those prepared to overlook these flaws - in the Christmas spirit, as it were - can settle down to an entertaining, diverse programme made up of old classics, sung in the traditional manner - or David Willcocks's established arrangements! - and of newer songs in a contemporary idiom, several of which deserve a permanent place in Christmas recitals. Bob Chilcott, to cite just one, has John Rutter's feel for melody, but he is also far more original, as his three contributions demonstrate - although the percussion in 'Where Riches is Everlastingly' seems out of place here. Paul Trepte's comically tipsy arrangement of 'Deck the Halls' deserves a mention too for the credit side of this album, as does the 79 minute running-time.
 
The booklet provides only a brief overview of the music, but all the sung texts are provided for a Christmas sing-a-long. On the other hand, Rochester must consider themselves totally outclassed by Wells, whose Cathedral Choir have their own Christmas CD out, also on Regent (REGCD 399).
 
Byzantion
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
 
Not one for the annals.