The Twelve Days of Christmas
The King’s Men
rec. St George’s Church, Chesterton, 29 June-1 July 2015. DDD.

The King’s Men is the new (and rather more snappy) name for Collegium Regale, the men of the choir of King’s College Cambridge. After the success of their previous release on King’s own label, they follow it up with this (inevitable) Christmas release, which is charming, appealing and, considering its provenance, a little surprising.

The whole disc is performed a cappella, and that poses no problems for vocalists as seasoned and experienced as these. The sound is recorded close-up in St George’s Church, and every singer gets their own microphone, which has advantages of clarity, though it means that the blend can be a little controversial in places, often advantaging the altos over the lower voices.

Still, these quibbles aside, it’s a fun and spicy programme that is performed very refreshingly. The best arrangements make you hear the songs afresh and, for me, it was the contemporary and secular songs that worked best. Their take on Wizzard’s I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day, for example, is marvellously buoyant, and Paul McCartney’ Wonderful Christmastime is light, dance-like, jazzy and utterly persuasive. Speaking of dance-like, Santa Baby bops along jauntily with a brilliant vocal accompaniment, and their skat Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer sounds fabulous.

On the other end of the scale, their version of The Christmas Song is beautifully schmaltzy, and Have yourself a merry little Christmas has some beautiful harmonies in it. Dormi, dormi is also very successful, sounding both alluring and like a lullaby all at once, and there is a beautiful sense of peace to Away in a Manger. Similarly, Quelle est cette odeur rocks gently and persuasively.

Christmas Cards, by Ben Parry, was new to me, but it’s good fun and well sung. They save the best until last, however, with a delightful Twelve Days of Christmas that starts conventionally but becomes much more daring, fun and, in places, dashed impressive, both for the arrangement and for the singing.

The only one that didn’t work, for me, was Gabriel’s Message, whose woozy music didn’t quite work and didn’t suit the mood or sentiment of the carol. Otherwise, though, I really enjoyed this disc, and it’s something pleasantly different for Christmas. At less than 47 minutes, it’s a little mean, but I guess they’re counting on your Christmas spirit to overcome that.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Bruce McCollum

Timing is a little mean, but I guess they’re counting on your Christmas spirit to overcome that.

Track listing
Gabriel’s message: The angel Gabriel from heaven came [3:10]
All I want for Christmas is you [3:45]
The Christmas song: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire [2:42]
Dormi, dormi [2:53]
Wonderful Christmastime [2:55]
Santa baby [2:44]
Away in a manger – Cradle song [2:39]
I wish it could be Christmas everyday ‘Wizzard’ [3:28]
Quelle est cette odeur agréable? [5:33]
Christmas cards [3:36]
White Christmas: The sun is shining, the grass is green [2:16]
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer [2:03]
Have yourself a merry little Christmas [2:24]
The twelve days of Christmas [6:22]