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Dormi Jesu - A Caius Christmas
Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber
Annie Lydford and Nick Lee (organ); Joe Shiner (clarinet)
rec. St. John the Evangelist Church, Upper Norwood, London, 29-31 September 2011
DELPHIAN DCD34152 [63.28]

There is little doubt that the Choir at Gonville and Caius is a prolific recording ensemble. As for Geoffrey Webber, their long-term director, he is a man with a large and distinguished catalogue built up over twenty years. It was only about two months ago that I reviewed their fascinating disc ‘In Praise of Saint Columba’ (Delphian DCD34137). Just a short while before that they brought out a disc of Judith Weir’s choral works (DCD34095). It’s hardly surprising then that they should now turn to music for Advent and Christmas.

It's good too that Delphian, who proudly advertise themselves on the CD case as ‘Gramophone Label of the Year’ has taken them on. That said, this recording goes back over three years so I can’t believe that the choir, languorously enjoying the ruins of an Irish abbey, which is the same photograph as the one on their much more recent ‘Columba’ disc, is quite the same. Anyway they are a super ensemble and have been moulded to deliver a specific and warm sound by Geoffrey Webber ever since the late 1980s.

In truth several of the usual repertoire suspects are here — pieces you will have elsewhere like Villette’s charming Hymn to the Virgin or Poulenc’s Videntes Stellam or even Howells' wonderful Here is the little door. There are also some surprises. The disc takes its name from a dodecaphonic setting of Dormi Jesu by Anton Webern. This is sung with much understanding by Rose Wilson-Haffenden with clarinettist Joseph Shiner. Other more unusual pieces include the organ setting of Resonenet in Laudibus by Karg-Elert which is played magically by Nick Lee. You can also hear Peter Tranchell’s carol, well known at Gonville and Caius where he worked, If ye would hear the angels sing. Also new — to me anyway — is Thomas Hewitt-Jones’ memorable What child is this? often sung to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’. It's good to have this new version. His father incidentally was also a much respected but now rather forgotten Tony Hewitt-Jones.

The mixture includes Gabrieli’s double choir motet O Magnum mysterium and an even earlier setting, by the Elizabethan Robert Parsons, of the Ave Maria often recorded and anthologised. It's heard here in a very poised performance. There is also the extraordinary originality of Sandström’s Est ist ein Ros entsprungen with its very quiet vocalisation behind the chorale melody.

Incidentally I had a sense of déjà-vu whilst listening to the disc and I realised later that I had a copy of something similar already. Twenty of the twenty-one items appeared on a CD issued with the BBC Music Magazine in December 2011. It was, after all, a different choir, but one which is of equal high quality.

There can be no criticism of the acoustic of the church in Norwood which can sometimes be a little noisy. The clearly presented booklet notes by Andrew Stewart are detailed and interesting but not produced in the recorded order. This is just a little irritating. The texts are clearly provided in the original words and have been excellently translated.

Gary Higginson

Previous review: John Quinn

1. Michael PRAETORIUS arr. Jan SANDSTROM Es ist ein Ros ensprungen [4.14]
2. Carl RUTTI A Patre unigenitus [3.14]
3. Matthew OWENS The Holly and the Ivy [3.14]
4. Herbert HOWELLS Here is the little door [3.16]
5. Trad. Czech arr. Edward Higginbottom Rocking Carol [2.10]
6. Thomas HEWITT-JONES What child is this [4.18]
7. Trad. English arr. David Willcocks Sussex Carol [1.54]
8. Franz Xaver GRUBER arr. Geoffrey Webber Stille Nacht [3.41]
9. Trad. German arr. Robert Lucas DE PEARSALL In dulci jubilo [3.15]
10. Peter TRANCHELL If you would hear the angels sing [2.33]
11. Pierre VILLETTE Hymn to the Virgin [3.22]
12. William MATHIAS Wassail Carol [1.49]
13. Robert PARSONS Ave Maria [4.27]
14. Anton von WEBERN Dormi Jesu [1.10]
15. Francis POULENC Videntes stellam [2.37]
16. William WALTON Make we joy now in this fest [3.32]
17. Martin SHAW arr. Geoffrey Webber Hills of the North Rejoice [2.45]
18. Giovanni GABRIELI O Magnum mysterium [3.46]
19. Trad. arr. Magnus WILLIAMSON Of the Father’s heart begotten [4.12]
20. Sigfrid KARG-ELERT Resonet in laudibus [3.31]