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Carols from King’s - 60th Anniversary Edition
The Choir of King's College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury
Douglas Tang and Richard Gowers (organ scholars)
rec. 14 December 2014, Chapel of King’s College Cambridge
Video format: NTSC SD 16:9; Audio format: 16bit 48KHz PCM stereo
Booklet text of service
KING’S COLLEGE KGS0013 DVD [74.30 + 58.55]

There are many aspects of Christmas in twentieth and twenty-first century Britain that come as a surprise, particularly as one looks at the tradition which emerges with this DVD. It celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of the BBC broadcasts of the annual carol service from King's College, Cambridge which has become a central component of the British Christmas tradition. Yet, in those sixty years Britain has changed significantly in its social, racial and religious structure. Along with the latter diversity, the raw number of the population claiming adherence to the Christian faith has significantly fallen with the number regularly attending a Christian church of any denomination having plummeted. Yet the BBC TV broadcast, on Christmas Eve, of the Ceremony of Carols from King’s College Chapel, and the readings associated with the ceremony, draws a significant audience. The size of that audience more than justifies the costs incurred that can be inferred from the pictures (in the bonus) of the camera and associated technical apparatus and staff that are involved with the broadcast. It may be that there are many, like myself, a non-churchgoer, but who in his professional duties used to attend, with significant pleasure, such services. These were usually given in local churches by schools, one of which, instead of solo readings had the pupils use the technique of choric speaking. The clarity of the pupil’s enunciation spoke highly of their time and hard work spent in practice. It would also, as I was wont to note, help them in preparing to express themselves, individually, with similar clarity and enunciation.

This DVD includes the full 2014 service together with a near sixty-minute documentary detailing the history of this component of the British Christmas tradition which goes back into the fifteenth century. The bonus includes details of the life of the choristers and choral scholars as well as the history of the tradition and the great musicians who have acted as Directors of Music at Kings. This issue is dedicated to Sir David Willcocks (1919-2015) who held the position from 1957 to 1974. The current Director, Stephen Cleobury CBE, a distinguished organist and conductor, as well as choral trainer, has been Musical Director for over a quarter of a century and here is to be heard in an extended interview. In this he gives an idea of the complexity of selection of choristers and the work of the choir, particularly the school age singers who are resident throughout term time and beyond. They do not get home for Christmas dinner with their family, as one parent notes. We see the young boys in their dorm, even indulging in a little cricket. All the singers are male. Whether this originated from the earlier Catholic tradition I do not know. Opera lovers, particularly of baroque works, but also into the nineteenth century, will be aware of that tradition, both for church choirs and the lyric stage, and which led to the castration of young boys before their voices broke. What remains true is the rigorous training and the hours spent in preparation for this and the other services in which the choristers of all ages are involved.

The actual ceremony recorded here starts, by tradition, with the processional hymn, Once in Royal David’s City (CH. 1), the first verse being sung solo by one of the boy trebles. Being chosen to sing is considered a great honour. After the processional hymn the service commences with the Dean, The Rev. Dr Stephen Cherry who, in his homily, gives some background to the service and reminds the congregation, watchers on TV and this video, that it is a religious service that has been held in the Chapel since 1918 (CH.2). The views of the Chapel with its high vaulting and stained-glass windows appear frequently during the service. As well as by the Dean, readings are given by undergraduates of both sexes all interspersed with the chosen carols. The readings include prose, poetry as well as biblical extracts. Dr. Cleobury selects the former, and as he explains in the bonus, they vary between the traditional and contemporary, and are often chosen with particular events or people in mind.

Robert J Farr

Contents List

1. Once in royal David’s city - H Gauntlett & A Mann, descant. S Cleobury,
2. Up! good Christen folk - Piae Cantiones arr. G R Woodward
3. A tender shoot - O Goldschmidt,
4. Sussex Carol - Traditional, arr. D Willcocks
5. Stille Nacht - F Gruber, arr. S Cleobury,
6. In the bleak mid-winter - G Holst
7. It came upon the midnight clear - Traditional, arr. A Sullivan; descant by S Cleobury
8. Gabriel’s message - Basque Traditional, arr. E Pettman; Benedicamus Domino P Warlock
9. A spotless Rose - H Howells,
10. Joys seven - Traditional, arr. S Cleobury
11. God rest you merry, gentlemen - Traditional, arr. D Willcocks,
12. The Lamb - J Tavener
13. Ding! dong! merrily on high - J Tabourot, arr. M Wilberg & P Stevens
14. NoŽl nouvelet - French traditional, arr. S Jackson
15. I saw three ships - Traditional, arr. S Preston
16. The Three Kings - P Cornelius, arr. I Atkins
17. A babe is born - W Mathias
18. God is with us - J Tavener
19. Hark! the herald-angels sing - F Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, descant by S Cleobury
20. Von Himmel hoch - BWV 606 J S Bach

 

 




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