A Very English Christmas
James Sherlock (organ)
rec. 21-22 January 2015, Church of St Augustine, Kilburn, London
Texts included BENE ARTE SIGCD902 [55:35]
I've written many times in these pages of how much I admire Nigel Short and Tenebrae, so it will come as a surprise to no one that I loved his disc. The choir's small size and distinctive timbre lend a totally fresh sound to these lovely carols, something I found utterly beguiling; and that's before we even get to how well chosen the repertoire is.
As the title suggests, these are either original carols by English composers, or traditionals that have been freshly arranged by them. The disc opens, for example, with Simon Preston's blithely iconoclastic version of I Saw Three Ships, and Philip Ledger's 'organtastic' take on the Sussex Carol turns up later.
It's the original carols that are the real treat, though. There is so much to relish there, such as The Birds by Richard Hickox — who knew that he was a carol composer? — Christopher Robinson's slightly jazzy version of Rejoice and Be Merry, or Simon Preston's deeply thoughtful, tonally mysterious On Christmas Day. I also loved the varied textures of Bax's I Sing of a Maiden, and Paul Edwards' No Small Wonder is a jewel of simple devotion, beautifully sung. Richard Knight's Come Rock his Cradle is utterly delightful, and Gardner's Gallery Carol rounds the disc off with ebullience after the thoughtful beauty of Mary walked through a wood of thorn.
I was particularly fond of the Warlock sequence, which shows this composer at his very best, be it the moving Balulalow and I Saw a Fair Maiden, or the more upbeat Benedicamus Domino and As Dew in Aprylle. It makes me wonder, as I do every December, why we don't hear more of this composer's music as the year progresses.
The performances are impeccably blended and beautifully shaped at every turn, and the acoustic of St Augustine's church works well for the choir, though the organ is a little reedy. Some might claim that, at less than an hour, full price is asking a lot, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is so much to enjoy here. It's seasonal, beautiful and very appealing. Go for it.
Track-listing Simon PRESTON I saw three ships Simon PRESTON There is no rose John GARDNER Tomorrow shall be my dancing day Richard LLOYD Love came down at Christmas Christopher ROBINSON Rejoice and be merry Richard HICKOX The Birds Peter WARLOCK Benedicamus Domino; Adam lay ybounden; I saw a fair maiden; Balulalow; As dew in Aprylle, Philip LEDGER Adam lay ybounden Simon PRESTON On Christmas Day Philip LEDGER On Christmas night Arnold BAX I sing of a maiden Paul EDWARDS No small wonder Jonathan LANE There is no rose Richard KNIGHT Come rock his cradle Alec REDSHAWE I sing of a maiden John GARDNER Balulalow Philip RADCLIFFE Mary walked through a wood of thorn John GARDNER A gallery carol