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Support us financially by purchasing this from
Dormi Jesu: A Caius Christmas
Annie Lydford and Nick Lee (organ)
The Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber
rec. 29-30 September 2011, Parish Church of St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood. DDD
Texts and English translations included
Track-listing at the foot of this review
DELPHIAN DCD34152 [63:28]

It’s Christmas morning and what’s this under the tree? It’s a big hamper: how nice. The label says: “Happy Christmas from Geoffrey Webber and the Choir of Gonville & Caius College.” There are lots of little gift-wrapped packages inside; let’s open some of them.

This one at the top of the pile is gorgeous: an old German chorale sung slowly and quietly. It’s a super tune with lovely harmonies but what makes it really special is the soft chords that some of the choir are singing round the choral. If the rest of the hamper is as good as this it’s going to be some Christmas gift.

The parcel lying next to it is interesting. It’s by Carl Rütti; I’ve heard some of his music before but not this recent piece so I’m glad the assembler of the hamper included it. It starts off slowly but it becomes more lively and festive later on ... and what a super organ part. If whoever sent me this hamper was trying to catch me out with things I’ve not heard before he’s slipped up with The Holly and the Ivy: everyone knows that. But hang on a moment; I haven’t heard this tune before. It’s by Matthew Owens, the Director of Music at Wells Cathedral and it’s bouncy and jolly and it lodges in the memory. I apologise to the hamper sender; this one is new to me and it’s a delight.

Let’s unwrap another little parcel. Ah, Howells and Christmas; what a perfect combination. I love A Spotless Rose but Here is the little door is just gorgeous; in some ways I think it’s finer; the ending is so touching. It seems that whoever put together the contents of this hamper had a good idea of what music I like.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the lower levels of this hamper. Here’s something I don’t think I know. It’s What child is this? by Thomas Hewitt Jones. I’ve heard that he used to study at Gonville and Caius College and that he wrote this for the college choir. His carol has a lovely, touching tune to it that fits the words really well; and what a nice soprano solo there is at the very end, beautifully sung.

Nestling next to that parcel are two more packages but their contents are a bit more familiar. David Willcocks’ arrangement of The Sussex Carol is famous and I’m sure I’ve been given it before but I don’t mind duplication when it’s as well sung as this. I can always find room for Stille Nacht in a gentle, suave arrangement like Geoffrey Webber’s. Here’s a nice little gift. It’s If ye would hear the angels sing by Peter Tranchell. He was Geoffrey Webber’s predecessor at the college so it’s good that this lilting, tuneful setting is in the hamper.

Many hampers have bottles of wine in them and I’m hoping that I might get a nice bottle of French wine to go with my Christmas lunch. No such luck: this is a ‘dry’ hamper. By way of compensation someone’s slipped in a nice little French musical vintage instead. It’s Chateau Villette. His Hymne à la Vierge is one to savour slowly and thoughtfully. I’ve just spied a different French vintage further down in the hamper. Chateau Poulenc can often tickle the palate but Videntes stellam is as pure as a glass of Chablis. It’s very refreshing, though with a few welcome hints of piquancy on the nose. The Gonville and Caius sommeliers have come up trumps with these two.

This next packet contains a fine, sturdy English hymn tune, Hills of the North, rejoice. It’s as solid and reassuring as good English oak. I like the descant that Geoffrey Webber has composed to decorate the last verse and the organist has a field day. I’m glad I unwrapped this one.

Let’s rummage a little deeper into the hamper. Ouch ... that’s spiky. Oh dear, it’s Webern’s Dormi, Jesu. No ‘ho-ho-ho’ here, I fear. Let’s quietly wrap this one up again and put it to one side; perhaps someone else will take it from the bran tub when we have our Boxing Day party.

The parcel I’ve just found that has Walton’s jovial Make we joy now in this fest is much more welcome. So too, in a very different way, is Robert Parson’s serene Ave Maria. That’s what I call the peace of Christmas. In fact, that’s a good point at which to stop rummaging in the hamper. We can leave the other parcels until after Christmas lunch; I’m sure they’ll be just as enticing.

What a lovely musical hamper this is. It’ll sustain me nicely through the Christmas season. There’s also a very nice booklet that tells me all about the contents of the hamper. It seems to me that the singers who have put all this together are really good and so is the engineer who’s recorded them. Perhaps it’s like Fortnum & Mason and those nice people at Delphian have lots more hampers just like this one to send out. If you get one I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed mine. Happy Christmas.

John Quinn
 
Track-listing
 
Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621) arr. Jan SANDSTRÖM (b. 1954) Es ist ein Ros enstprungen (1990) [4:14]
Carl RÜTTI (b. 1949) A Patre unigenitus (2010) [3:14]
Matthew OWENS (b 1971) The Holly and the Ivy [3:14]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Here is the little door (1918) [3:16]
trad. Czech arr. Edward HIGGINBOTTOM Rocking Carol (1980) [2:16]
Thomas HEWITT JONES (b. 1984) What child is this? [4:18]
trad. arr. David WILLCOCKS Sussex Carol [1:54]
Franz GRUBER (1787-1863) arr. Geoffrey Webber Stille Nacht [3:41]
trad. arr. Robert Lucas de PEARSALL (1795-1856) In dulci jubilo (1834) [3:15]
Peter TRANCHELL (1922-1993) If ye would hear the angels sing (1965) [2:33]
Pierre VILLETTE (1825-1998) Hymne à la Vierge [3:32]
William MATHIAS (1934-1992) Wassail Carol [1:49]
Robert PARSONS (c 1535-1572) Ave Maria [4:27]
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945) Dormi, Jesu (1923) [1:10]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Videntes stellam (1951/2) [2:37]
Sir William WALTON (1902-1983) Make we joy now in this fest (1931) [3:32]
Martin SHAW (1875-1958) arr. Geoffrey Webber Hills of the North, rejoice [2:45]
Giovanni GABRIELI ( 1550s–1612) O magnum mysterium [3:46]
trad. arr. Magnus WILLIAMSON Of the Father’s heart begotten [4:12]
Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933) Resonet in laudibus (Cathedral Windows No 3) (1923) [3:31]