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The King’s Singers
rec. live, Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, December 4 2015 SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD497 [52:50]
The men of the King’s Singers are no strangers to Christmas discs. What makes this one a little unusual, however, is that it was recorded live (and unedited, we are assured in a booklet note) at a concert in that most Christmassy of English buildings, the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge which, not coincidentally, is also a building that is central to the genesis of the King’s Singers themselves. That means you can expect a wonderfully generous acoustic, and the group use it to their great advantage. Indeed, it’s rare to hear the vast acoustic of the chapel used to capture such a small group of performers (only six singers) and that gives this disc a touch of uniqueness that’s rather special.
The range of what is on offer is typically varied, ranging from Renaissance polyphony through to contemporary secular songs, and the King’s Singers acquit themselves very well in each genre. They carry off the steady plainchant of Hodie Christus natus est with aplomb, and the interplaying lines Renaissance polyphony sound wonderful in Lassus’ Resonet in laudibus and in Byrd’s Beata viscera. The simple beauty of Praetoeius’ Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen sounds surprisingly intimate in the huge acoustic, while they fill it very convincingly with the joyful swing of Sweelinck’s Hodie.
We get three of Poulenc’s four Motets pour temps de NoŰl, and they are sung with focus and concentrated intensity, with a lovely touch of brightness to the closing Hodie. We also get a trilogy of Howells’ Christmas anthems which sound fascinatingly dark - A Spotless Rose, in particular - in ATB arrangements without the top line of sopranos. I didn't particularly warm to this version of I Saw Three Ships, but the jazzy God Rest Ye is right up the King’s Singers’ street, and they do a delightful bilingual Still, Still, Still. On the secular front, Peter Knight’s arrangement of The Christmas Song is deliciously schmaltzy, while Gordon Langford’s Jingle Bells trips along lightly and with humour.
So far so fine and, fine as the disc is, it struck me as just a little bit samey and ordinary by the King’s Singers’ high standards. However, they pulled me back with their final track, a gorgeous setting of a thanksgiving text by St Richard of Chichester, for which they are accompanied by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. That lifts the disc into the realm of the slightly special and makes it more easily recommendable.
The booklet contains no information about the music, but you do get the texts and, where appropriate, the parallel translations into English. It’s perhaps not the most original or brilliant of Christmas discs, but King’s Singers fans will love it.
Hodie Christus natus est Plainchant [2.19]
Resonet in laudibus Orlande de Lassus [3.43]
Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen Michael Praetorius [2.35]
Beata Viscera Maria virginis William Byrd [2.08]
Hodie Christus natus est Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck [3.39]
O magnum mysterium Francis Poulenc [3.10]
Quem vidistis pastores dicite Francis Poulenc [2.48]
Hodie Christus natus est Francis Poulenc [2.16]
A Spotless Rose Herbert Howells [3.00]
Here is the Little Door Herbert Howells [3.21]
Sing Lullaby Herbert Howells [3.08]
I Saw Three Ships Clive Smith [3.15]
God Rest You Merry Gentlemen Trad. (arr. Geoffrey Keating) [2.53]
La Peregrinašion Ariel Ramirez (arr. Peter Knight) [3.14]
Christmas Song Mel TormÚ & Robert Wells (arr. Peter Knight) [3.24]
Still, Still, Still Trad. (arr. Alexander L’Estrange) [3.23]
Jingle Bells James Lord Pierpoint (arr. Gordon Langford) [1.39]
A Thanksgiving Bob Chilcott [2.54]