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To Bethlehem - Carols and Motets for Christmas
Kantorei of Kansas City/Chris Munce
rec. St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Kansas City, Missouri, 10-12 June 2016
RESONUS RES10175 [61.29]

Looking for a disc of Christmas music which is slightly off the beaten track? One that has largely removed all that syrupy 'sleigh bells' sloppiness? One that side-steps Rutterism and gives a helping hand to modern composers who are largely unknown? Looking for the same disc to promote beautiful renaissance motets hardly ever recorded? If so then this is for you. I realise that the above is a long list of desirables and that it covers many aspects of ‘festive season’ music but there are plenty of you out there who want a new Christmas disc that is a little different and don’t quite know where to find it. That’s one of our jobs here at MusicWeb International. I can say immediately that this disc will cover all of those bases.

Another thing to say early on is that I know singers and listeners in the UK who have a slight aversion to American choirs. Some consider them maybe a little unsubtle or even, dare I say, unsophisticated both in tone quality, diction and in choice of repertoire. Well again, so far as this disc is concerned, you may have no fear on that account. There is strength to be heard here but also a ravishing purity at times from the Kansas Kantorei performances. This may possibly remind you of an Oxbridge choir. It appears that this is their third disc.

The choir consists of four of each voice with an additional bass. All of them are quite young it seems and with fresh and beautifully tuned soloists. They are pictured within the booklet as is their young conductor Chris Munce.

The pieces chosen are seven renaissance motets by composers who are somewhat obscure. This is quite deliberate. There's three by Blasius Ammon a priest/composer whose flowing Parvulus filius is worth hearing over again. Then there are contemporary composers new to me and possibly to you. David Basden is Australian. Jocelyn Hagen is from North Dakota. Douglas Helvering and Matthew Culloton are also American. Ivo Antognini is Swiss. The last work is by Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen. His is a really peaceful setting of the ancient Latin text Dormi Jesu which features a soaring soprano solo. With its repeated ‘Dormi Jesu’ phrase in the last bars this makes a lovely end to the programme.

Very often composers decide when commissioned for a Christmas piece, to arrange a well-known carol melody instead of composing something afresh. This disc has five such examples. Jocelyn Hagen’s O Come O Come Emmanuel with its unusual approach to setting the melody and Ivo Antognini with his highly sugared Silent night arrangement — a brave thing to do — have turned classic carols into something quite personal. There is also a clever arrangement of In dulci jubilo by Matthew Culloton in which the usual compound time is substituted for an irregular rhythm. This still, for the most part, manages to fit nicely into 4/4. His Angels we have heard skilfully weaves ‘Angels from the realms of glory’ and a touch of ‘In dulci jubilo’ into its otherwise less known French text. Also of much delicate beauty is the arrangement by Culloton of Still, Still, Still, in which the melody only gradually asserts itself.

The texts used by the contemporary composers range from one by Hildegard of Bingen (Alleluia! O virga mediatrix), the traditional (In dulci jubilo) and the medieval (O Magnum Mysterium). Curiously the renaissance pieces seem somewhat randomly placed around the disc but you might programme it completely differently for your own pleasure.

If you can only listen to one track before deciding to buy this CD then choose the passionate setting of Havering’s All my heart again rejoices with its re-iterations of ‘Christ is born’. The recording was made in a modern church with a warm and yet precise acoustic, which the choir handle successfully. The booklet essay gives useful information on a general level. More importantly all texts are presented and clearly translated.

Gary Higginson


1. David BASDEN (b.1957) Alleluia! O Virga mediatrix [2.19]
2. Jocelyn HAGEN (b.1980) O Come, O Come Emmanuel [5.02]
3. Melchior VULPIUS (c.1570-1615) Ascendit Joseph a Galiliea [5.15]
4. Claudio MERULO (1533-1604) Spiritus Sanctus in te [3.06]
5. R. Douglas HAVERING (b.1977) Ave Maria [4.11]
6. Jakob REINER (c.1555-1606) Hodie Christus natus est [2.41]
7. Matthew CULLOTON (b.1976) Angels we have heard [3.00]
8. In dulci jubilo [3.21]
9. Giovanni BASSANO (c.1558-1617) Angelus ad pastores ait [2.57]
10. Blasius AMMON (c.1558-1590) Pervulus filius [2.41]
11. Magi videntes stellam [3.95]
12. Ivo ANTOGNINI (b.1963) O magnum mysterium [2.38]
13. Matthew CULLOTON Still, Still, Still [3.42]
14. Blasius AMMON Grates nunc omnes [2.49]
15. Douglas HELVERING All my heart again rejoice [4.57]
16. Franz GRUBER (1787-1863) arr. ANTOGNINI Silent Night [3.55]
17. Kim André ARNESEN (b.1980) Dormi Jesu [5.42]



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