Alexander CAMPKIN (b. 1984) Sleep, Holy Babe [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 traditional 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 [7.29]
Blossom Street/Hilary Campbell
rec. St. Sepulchre Without Newgate, Holborn, London, 25-27 March 2011
NAXOS 8.572868 [57.07]
Blossom Street is a vocal ensemble which was founded in 2005. The group numbers some twenty singers, with a mixture of men and women on the alto line. It encompasses a wide range of repertoire. On this disc they present a selection of Christmas pieces with the emphasis on lullabies both ancient and modern, all unaccompanied.
The programme is interesting and nicely put together. All but two of the pieces were written post-1900 with the majority written by living composers. The range of works is carefully chosen, perhaps too conservatively. They are all tonal within a relatively narrow range.
They open with Alexander Campkin’s lovely Sleep Holy Babe. Composed for Oxford University in 2005, it has echoes of Howells. This is followed not by Howells but by Finzi, the little known setting of a Greek folk-song in a translation by M. D Calvocoressi.
Next is one of the two early pieces, Manchicourt’s O Emmanuel, an Advent antiphon by the 16th century Franco-Flemish composer. The group don’t change their style noticeably for this earlier piece instead opting for a slightly old-fashioned - non-HIP - feeling.
Edinburgh-based Anthony Mudge’s O Magnum Mysterium was written for inclusion on this CD. A setting of the Christmas Day responsory, it is a powerful piece with a strong use of dissonance. In striking contrast is Trevor Ling’s Magnificat. Ling is a former bass at Westminster Cathedral and his Magnificat is heavily chant-based, alternating chant with traditional, well put-together, polyphony.
Conductor Hilary Campbell’s Sleep, my dreaming one sets a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning with nice luxuriant harmonies, some scrunchy chords and a tender solo. Jonathan Rathbone contributes a new arrangement of the familiar traditional Basque carol, Sing Lullaby.
Richard Pygott’s Quid petis, O Fili? is the longest piece on the disc. Pygott was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal under Henry VIII and Edward VI and Quid petis, O Fili? seems to have been written for Henry.
The second Magnificat on the disc also has Westminster connections as David Bevan is a former Assistant Master of Music at the Cathedral. His Magnificat mixes florid 8-part Gabrieli-style polyphony alternating with chant.
John Duggan’s O Babe, born bare is for women’s chorus only. It is full of bitter-sweet tender dissonance, though surprisingly austere. Daniel Burges version of the Coventry Carol was not as austere as I had expected. The disc finishes with Francis Pott’s long setting of Lullay, my Liking.
The performances on this disc enchant, though they lack the high gloss of some choirs. This can be an advantage and makes the singing more intimate and personal, provided you don’t expect them to strive for the ultimate perfection. The music is well chosen and makes an interesting and enlivening programme. Just occasionally I wished that they’d taken one or two risks with the repertoire and included something more adventurous to give the sequence a little more grit.
The CD booklet includes an article on the music plus full texts and translations.
Charming performances of an intelligently and well thought out contemporary programme. This disc is definitely one to revive anyone whose palate for Christmas carols has become jaded.
Robert Hugill

Charming performances of an intelligently and well thought out contemporary programme.