I was the fortunate one. I found myself listening to this disc in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It popped through the letter box just as Advent was starting.
This voice and harp combination has worked together many times both in concert all over the world and in the recording studio. I reviewed their Fairy Songs
in 2012 (NI 6193
) and they recorded some pieces of mine in 2011 (Regent REGCD381
). They have been superb advocates of British music for some time especially of the earlier twentieth century as demonstrated here, but this also quite an eclectic choice including some popular songs of the pre-war era.
Many of the songs will be quite familiar. In truth I didn’t realise that some of them worked so well on the harp. Examples include Warlock’s The First Mercy
and Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
, here arranged beguilingly by one Robert Wells.
The slim CD booklet notes have been written by Charlotte de Rothschild herself and centre on her home, Christmas at Exbury
. This anthology is therefore her own, rather personal reflection on childhood Christmases. It’s a reminder of times past and of the way in which these English composers represented would themselves have probably experienced the great day.
I often write in some frustration about lack of texts and this disc has none. Is it a question of cost? De Rothschild’s diction is mostly very reliable but the texts represented here are surely not much in copyright. It would have been good to have had them to hand. There is also no information about any of the music or the composers. Instead there are the usual artist’s biographies.
I will pick out a few of my favourite tracks.
Michael Head is such an underrated song composer. His Little Road to Bethlehem
always comes back fresh. Then again, what about the equally lovely Star Candles
both using texts by Margaret Rose. Roger Quilter, represented by his exquisite An Old Carol
and Edmund Rubbra, when a young man, were just two of those British composers who were to rediscover old English poetry and set it. Jesukin
was composed when Rubbra was about 22. The even better known A Hymn to the Virgin
was written just a short time later. They deliberately capture a medieval mood with parallel harmonies, open fifths and simple modal melodies. Perrett recorded them both back in 1998 (ASV CD DCA 1036
) with the lovely and much lamented Tracey Chadwell.
There are four much appreciated harp solos. What a pity that an unaccompanied vocal one could not have been placed somewhere. Especially charming is Perrett’s own arrangement of What Child is this?
to the tune, as it always has been, of Greensleeves
. There are three arrangements by Mary Hogan Cambern, herself a harpist. Especially unusual and interesting is the hymn Let all mortal flesh keep silence
The most idiomatic accompaniments are the ones especially designed for harp, especially pleasing is Canadian composer Stuart Calvert’s arrangement of the American carol I wonder as I wander
. In this he does not allow himself to fall into the some of the usual ‘soupy’ harmonies.
Charlotte de Rothschild has an effortless and unforced vocal timbre. Sometimes it may appear a little strained in the very highest register when singing piano
. That said, it can easily turn to the dramatic as it does convincingly in Adam’s ubiquitous Cantique de Noël
. How refreshing to hear a woman sing this as opposed to some imposing operatic tenor. Danielle Perrett plays with totally assured calm, dexterity and elegance. For my taste, in some tracks, I would have wanted the harp a little more prominent in the overall stereo image.
The whole disc, which as can be seen below, traces a journey from Christ’s conception to birth, is a complete delight and worthy of any Christmas stocking.
Previous review: Colin Clarke
Full contents list
1. Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
A Hymn to the Virgin Op. 13 no. 2 [2.48]
2. Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
Adam Lay ybounden [1.33]
3. Edmund RUBBRA
Jesukin Op. 4 no. 2 [1.49]
4. Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
A Old Carol Op. 25 no. 3 [2.57]
5. Thomas DUNHILL (1877-1946)
To the Queen of Heaven [2.19]
6. Old French Carol arr. Mary HOGAN CAMBERN
Let all mortal flesh keep silence [2.18]
7. Max REGER (1873-1916)
Maria Wiegenlied Op. 76 no. 52 [2.10]
8. Roger QUILTER
The Cradle in Bethlehem [3.25]
9. Michael HEAD (1900-1976)
The Little Road to Bethlehem [2.58]
10. Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621) arr. Hogan Cambern
Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming (solo harp) [2.10]
11. Michael HEAD
Star Candles [2.38]
12. Peter WARLOCK
The First mercy [2.56]
13. John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Holy Boy [2.45]
14. Trad. arr. Perrett
What Child is This (solo harp)
15. Peter CORNELIUS (1824-1874)
16. Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
Cantique de Noël
17. John Jacob NILES (1892-1980) arr. Stuart Calvert
I wonder as I wander [3.44]
18. Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Corpus Christi Carol [3.18]
19. 13th Cent. arr. Hogan Cambern
O Come, O Come Emmanuel [3.14]
20. Howard BLAKE (b.1938)
Walking in the Air [4.10]
21. Mel TORME (1925-1999) arr. Robert Wells
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire [2.22]