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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.
 
Gwyn Parry-Jones 

see also review by Paul Corfield Godfrey

Britten discography & review index