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There is No Rose Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
A Ceremony of Carols, op.28 [23.25]
Sweet was the Song [3:05]
A Wealden Trio - The Song of the Women [2:17]
The Oxen [2:36] Tarik O’REGAN (b.1978)
Bring Rest, Sweet Dreaming Child [4:25] Trad. arr. Lionel SALTER (1914-2000)
The Coventry Carol [2:44] Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Jesu, thou the Virgin-born [2:56] Sir Philip LEDGER (1937-2012)
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - ‘A lullaby for Becky’ [2:46] Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Snow op.26.no.1 [5:02] John RUTTER (b.1945)
Deck the Hall [2:18]
Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day [2:18]
A Merry Christmas [1:30]
Les Sirènes/Andrew Nunn
Pippa Tunnell (harp), Fionnuala Ward (piano), Hazel Collins, Ruth Tarr (violins)
rec. Sherbroke St. Gilbert’s Church, Glasgow, 12-14 June 2013 NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6249 [56:15]
Les Sirènes is a female chamber choir made up of students
and graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. They have put
together an attractive CD with an obvious Christmas slant to it. It
makes a fine showcase for the Conservatoire, as they are joined by
four talented instrumentalists. The first of these, the harpist Pippa
Tunnell, is the accompanist in Britten’s glorious Ceremony
of Carols - written on the boat home from America in 1942, the
ship dodging the U-boats while Britten composed in a cramped, stuffy
cabin. “Well”, he said “one had to do something
to alleviate the boredom”. Quite.
This is a committed, intense performance, but, be warned, very different
from what we have become accustomed to in this music - and what Britten
had in mind. He was thinking of children’s voices, though that
in itself in no way invalidates this well-prepared, stylish version.
These young women’s voices are full-blooded, very rich and powerful.
Their quality is beyond doubt; but here and there, the microphone
picks up individuals with that extra bit of power, or more vibrato.
In some numbers, notably the opening plainchant, that can be uncomfortable.
So the blend is less than ideal, as is the balance between the two
treble parts in ‘In Freezing Winter Night’ (tr. 9). However,
the numbers with prominent solos are beautifully done. There’s
a higher level of expressive nuance than one would expect to get from
child soloists. Julia Daramy-Williams’ rich soprano is particularly
striking in ‘This yongë child’. It’s a little
bit ‘swings and roundabouts’. The overall effect is quite
‘close-up’, which does militate somewhat against the numinous
qualities in the music. Pippa Tunnell’s contributions are excellent,
particularly the Interlude for harp solo, which meditates so beautifully
on the processional chant.
Three more Britten songs follow; two very early compositions, ‘Sweet
was the Song’ and ‘A Wealden Trio’, and also a lovely
setting from 1966 of Hardy’s poem ‘The Oxen’. This
is superbly done, with its gentle piano accompaniment and the unexpected
semitonal lift at the end for ‘Hoping it might be so’.
The harp returns for Tarik O’Regan’s haunting ‘Bring
Rest, Sweet Dreaming Child’. Though this again suffers from
obtrusive vibrato, both in the opening solo and in the choral parts,
there is no doubting the musical excellence of this group. After all,
not for nothing were they awarded 2012 Choir of the Year, and there
is a confidence and panache about their singing that is compelling,
despite my slight reservations.
Of the remaining items, Elgar’s ‘The Snow’, with
its violin duet and major/minor switches, works especially well, perhaps
because the ripe Romantic idiom is so appropriate for this choir’s
approach and sound. Helen Knight’s soprano in Rutter’s
‘Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day’ is a real pleasure,
though the same composer’s ‘A Merry Christmas’ seems
one of his less interesting arrangements - or perhaps I’m not
in the Christmas mood yet. Never mind, only 89 shopping days to go.