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Joy to the World
see end of review for track listing
The King’s Singers (David Hurley and Timothy Wayne-Wright (counter-tenors), Paul Phoenix (tenor), Philip Lawson and Christopher Gabbitas (baritones), Jonathan Howard (bass))
rec. Cadogan Hall, London, 19 December 2010. DDD

This disc consists of an eclectic mix of Christmas carols, popular Christmas classics, original compositions by British composers and arrangements of traditional tunes, many of which have been prepared by the group’s baritone singer, Philip Lawson and founding bass Brian Kay.
The disc opens with the traditional Christmas spiritual, Rise up Shepherd and Follow, here arranged by the New York-born composer and conductor Carl Davis.This presents an unusual but gloriously refreshing start. While the King’s Singers capture the swing of this spiritual well, immediately apparent is their usual breathy, closely-miked tone.
One notes that this live recording omits much of the applause and audience noises. Overall, sound is good. This is, however, with exception of the last two tracks, Jingle Bells and Deck the Hall with Boughs of Holly, in which one can hear audience laughter and applause at the very end. This is a mild irritation.
The ensemble is excellent, as one might expect - as is intonation and communication. In Gaudete, which is taken from a collection of sacred songs, published in 1582 by Reverend Theodoric Petri of Nyland, one finds particularly good enunciation and articulation.
The disc also includes a sound rendition of the lovely Gabriel’s Message, an English Christmas song by Edgar Pettman, based on a traditional Basque tune. Also pleasing is O Little One Sweet,which employs an English version of the traditional German song O Jesulein Süss and includes an effective harmonisation by J. S. Bach; the words are by Percy Dearmer. I was less impressed with Noël Nouvelet, the arrangement of which does nothing to enhance what is a rather lovely song unadorned. Bob Chilcott’s arrangement of What Child is This,whichsets the text to the melody of Greensleeves is also disappointing - here, the King’s Singers’ “do-do-dos” make a predictable but unwelcome appearance. Likewise, the beautiful and simple melody of Lullay my Liking is here presented in an overly-complicated arrangement that obscures the beauty of the basic tune. Such arrangements may well show off the not-inconsiderable talent and skill of the King’s Singers (and also the arranger), yet they are not nearly as effective or as moving as the traditional tunes. The arrangement of Joy to the World is also more complicated than it needs to be. Sadly, there is no information about this popular Christmas hymn in the liner-notes. The booklet itself is attractively presented, and includes words as well as rather brief notes from the artists on the works. I was a little disturbed, however, to find Pettman referred to as Pettiman throughout - in both track-listings and the notes.
The CD concludes with a lively rendition of some traditional Christmas carols - and at this juncture, I’ll stop being a Scrooge and say that Jingle Bells is actually really quite good fun!
Em Marshall-Luck 

See also review by Rob Barnett

Track listing
Traditional, arr. Carl DAVIS (b.1936) Rise up, Shepherd, and Follow [2.40]
Edgar PETTMAN (1866-1943) Gabriel’s Message [2.43]
Traditional, arr. Philip LAWSON (b.1957) Noël Nouvelet [2.25]
Traditional/William CHATTERTON DIX (1837-1898), arr. Bob CHILCOTT (b.1955) What Child is This? [3.17]
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893), arr. Jeremy LUBBOCK The Crown of Roses [3.06]
Traditional (harmonised by J. S. Bach) O Little One Sweet [2.17]
Philip LAWSON (b.1957) Lullay my Liking [4.25]
Franz GRUBER (1787-1863)/Joseph MOHR (1792-1848), arr. John RUTTER (b. 1945) Stille Nacht [3.22]
June COLLIN/James MORGAN The Quiet Heart [2.29]
John RUTTER (b.1945) There is a Flower [3.43]
Lowell MASON (1792-1872)/Isaac WATTS (1674-1748), arr. Philip LAWSON (b.1957) Joy to the World [2.32]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) Sérénade D’hiver [5.17]
Traditional, arr. Geoffrey KEATING and featuring John Julius Norwich’s A Correspondence. The Twelve Days of Christmas [9.02]
Traditional, arr. Brian KAY (b.1944) Gaudete [1.37]
Traditional, arr. Geoffrey KEATING God Rest You Merry Gentleman [2.57]
Katherine K. DAVIS (1892-1980)/Henry ONORATI/Harry SIMEONE (1911-2005), arr. John McCARTHY The Little Drummer Boy
James LORD PIERPONT (1822-1893), arr. Gordon LANGFORD (b.1930) Jingle Bells [1.30]
Traditional/Thomas OLIPHANT (1799-1873), arr. Gordon LANGFORD (b.1930) Deck the Hall with Boughs of Holly [2.29]