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Support us financially by purchasing this from
Carols from the Old and New Worlds - Volume 3
Track listing below review
* Fergal Caulfield (chamber organ)
Chamber Choir Ireland/Paul Hillier
rec. All Hallows College Chapel, Drumcondra, Dublin, June 2012 and January 2014. DDD/DSD
Booklet with texts and translations included

I have already briefly reviewed this recording in Download News 2014/14 as a 24-bit download – from, equivalent in quality to the stereo layer of SACD. I haven’t had access to the latter but wherever I have been able to compare 24-bit downloads with the SACD equivalent I have not been able to distinguish between them.

The seven ‘O’ antiphons for Advent each introduce a selection of carols from Ireland, the USA, the UK, and Alpine regions, usually in arrangements by Hillier himself. The material, especially in these arrangements, is mostly little enough known for it not to seem silly that I was listening to Christmas music in early November for the DL News review and again, still well before Advent, for this more detailed review.

Even when the words are well known, the tune may not be: Away in a Manger, for example, is sung in a less familiar setting from America, published around 1887. Traditionalists should be warned that some of Paul Hillier’s arrangements take familiar music a long way from what they may be expecting. They should sample from Naxos Music Library or Qobuz if possible – O come all ye faithful, from the second verse onwards is as good a place as any to try. On the other hand the simple settings of Joseph Stephenson’s If angels sung and Daniel Read’s Winter are left largely as they are, music in a style which will be familiar if you know the works of New England composers like William Billings – try his setting of A Virgin unspotted on Joy to the World, Coro COR16117, Download News 2013/15.

The booklet contains informative notes from Paul Hillier – especially helpful in the case of the unusual items, which include the tentative attribution of Merk auf, mein Herz to Johann Christoph Bach of Eisenach. The score of this inventive motet for double choir and continuo was discovered as recently as 1989, the performing parts at the Thomasschule and the score in the Harvard Library. Whoever the composer – and Bach is known to have performed works by his near namesake in Leipzig – it could well be your major reason for buying this album: the one other recording, on Et’cetera, seems to be out of stock in the UK.

One small grumble – I had to look up the composers’ dates, which are not listed. Finding Joseph Stephenson was not helped by the fact that his name is spelled with a v in the track listing and ph in the notes – the latter seems to be more usual.

The texts are included, together with translations. Even adept linguists may well have trouble deciphering the demotic Austrian of just the title of Heissa Buama (Up, lads) or the equally difficult Piedmontese Italian of Gesù bambin l’è nato. I hadn’t realised that the words of Ding Dong Merrily on high are very far from being as old as they sound, having been written by G.R. Woodward for the Cambridge Carol Book (1924). I’m not usually caught out by cod ‘olde English’, but I really thought the words were traditional. The music is genuinely old, having first appeared in Orchésographie, a collection of courtly dance music assembled by ‘Thoinot Arbeau’ (anagram of his real name Jehan Tabouret) in 1589, a short selection of which features on a fine budget-price recording from the Prætorius Consort/Christopher Ball on Alto ALC1076 (previously Regis RRC1076). We need a new recording of a more complete selection.

I’ve concentrated on describing the music because the performances are all that you would expect with Paul Hillier at the rostrum. I hadn’t heard him with the Chamber Choir Ireland before but he brings out the best in whatever ensemble he works with. On this occasion his Irish team copes extremely well with a wide variety of styles and with all the difficulties which some of Hillier’s elaborate arrangements throw at them.

The recording is very good, as heard in 24-bit format, equivalent to the 2-channel SACD layer, and even the mp3 sounds fine. I shall be listening to this recording quite frequently this Christmas.

Volume 1 of this series, from Paul Hillier with the Theatre of Voices, has been reissued at budget price on the Harmonia Mundi Musique D’Abord label: HMA1957079, a fine bargain for around £6, especially if you are looking for more basic seasonal repertoire (Download News 2013/15) but Volume 2 appears to be currently hors de concours, even as a download. have one copy left as I write.

Brian Wilson

Track listing
Antiphon I: O Sapientia (plainchant) [0:50]
O come, all ye faithful (arr. Paul Hillier) [3:29]
Remember, O thou man (arr. Paul Hillier) [4:56]
Antiphon II: O Adonai (plainchant) [0:52]
Adam lay ibounden (arr. Paul Hillier) [2:21]
Gaudete! Christus est natus (arr. Paul Hillier) [1:50]
Henry COWELL (1897-1965) Sweet was the song the Virgin sung* [2:08]
Antiphon III: O Radix Jesse (plainchant) [0:50]
Gerald BARRY (b.1952) Carol* [1:58]
Heissa, Buama (arr. Paul Hillier) [2:27]
Antiphon IV: O Clavis David (plainchant) [0:59]
Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703) (?) Merk auf, mein Herz* [10:57]
Antiphon V: O Oriens (plainchant) [0:42]
Joseph STEPHENSON (c.1723-1810) If angels sung a Savior’s birth (arr. Paul Hillier) [2:36]
Daniel READ (1757-1836) Winter (arr. Paul Hillier) [3:16]
Antiphon VI: O Rex Gentium (plainchant) [0:53]
Gesù bambin l’è nato (arr. Paul Hillier) [1:59]
Away in a manger (arr. Paul Hillier) [2:06]
Eamonn Ó GALLOBHAIR (1900-1982) An Teitheadh go hÉigipt [2:12]
Suantraí ár Slánaitheora (traditional, arr. Fiontán Ó CEARBHAILL(1922-1981)) [3:57]
Antiphon VII: O Emmanuel (plainchant) [0:49]
Behold a silly tender babe (arr. Paul Hillier) [4:49]
Ding Dong Merrily on High (Thoinot ARBEAU/G.R. WOODWARD, arr. Paul Hillier) [3:25]