MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around   2022
 57,903 reviews
   and more ... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here
Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Alpha & O: Music for Advent & Christmas
Caius Lee (organ)
The Choirs of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge/Edward Wickham
rec. Chapel of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, 15–17 March 2020.
Texts and translations included
RESONUS RES10268 [54:29]

The title does not really offer any hints as to the true nature of what we have here. True, the texts are associated with the season of Christmas and the weeks which lead up to it, but the music is mostly new (almost half the tracks are described as world premiere recordings) and is totally devoid of the kind of sweet, charming carols which is what most would seem to associate with choral music for this time of year. Perhaps only Joanna Forbes l’Estrange’s Advent ‘O’ Carol evokes Christmas music with its drone bass and sense of mystery, as well as its warm, if somewhat incongruous, ending.

There are two settings of the Magnificat. Paul Chihara’s builds on choral clusters, and while he writes in an extensive note on the piece that he wanted it to sound “joyful and rapturous”, his other intention – to make it sound “angry and agonized” - seems to have won over in the end. Effective as it is, the rather ugly sound the St Catharine’s girls make for the words “dispersit superbos” is a world away from what most expect on a disc of music for this season of the church’s year. Also a very long way from the conventional idea of Christmas music, Jeremy Thurlow’s setting for girls’ choir involves a virtuoso organ part, played by Caius Lee, and assorted other sounds which seem electronically generated (they sound a bit like either children laughing or dogs yelping in the background, and include some tinkling bells) obviously designed to create a sense of what the composer describes as “the whirlwind of an angelic visitation”. I find these extraneous noises all a little disconcerting and unnecessary, given the vivid colours from the organ part, and I wish that the choral lines were more than just little jabs of isolated text, but Thurlow is obviously keen to do something different from the usual run of Magnificat settings, and in this he certainly succeeds.

Diana Burrell’s setting of Green groweth the holly is complex and tricky with some heart-stopping changes of speed and meter. It has about it the feel of a competition test piece, demanding the singers’ utmost concentration, yet musically it is rewarding and the St Catharine’s College Choir gives a most accomplished performance of it, even if at times, they seem to be straining a little at the upper register of their voices.

Observant readers will have noticed that there are actually two choirs here. The St Catharine’s College Choir is a mixed group where eight young tenors and basses possibly lack the weight to balance the 12 sopranos and altos. Nevertheless, as a choir, they make a most pleasing sound. The other is he St Catharine’s Girls’ Choir, which comprises 18 female voices which sound young, fresh, a trifle over-drilled, but eager and committed. The centrepiece of this programme is a sequence of alternating plainchant antiphons (sung with pleasing fluency and tenderness by the Girls’ Choir) and musical reflections on these so-called “O antiphons” by Christopher Fox (and sung with precision and notable care in placing of pitch and rhythm by the College Choir).

I am impressed with the sense of control and vocal precision Edward Wickham draws from his singers, but I find the whole programme lacks a feeling of real involvement; many of the settings seem, for want of a better word, impersonal – almost as if they are imposing texts on a predetermined musical framework – while the performances aim for a level of correctitude which sometimes obscures any real emotional engagement.

Marc Rochester

Previous review: Brian Wilson

Judith WEIR (b.1954) My Guardian Angel [2:12]
Hannah KENDALL (b.1984) Nativity [4:28]
Joanna Forbes L’ESTRANGE (b.1971) Advent ‘O’ Carol [6:14]
Paul CHIHARA (b.1938) Magnificat anima meum Dominum [4:31]
Diana BURRELL (b.1948) Green groweth the Holly * [4:53]
Anon.: O Sapientia [0:54]
Christopher FOX (b.1955) O Antiphons: I. Alpha and O * [2:57]
Anon.: O Adonai [0:56]
Christopher FOX O Antiphons: II. In a Flame of Fire * [2:35]
Anon.: O radix Jesse [0:55]
Christopher FOX O Antiphons: III. Our Grace * [1:59]
Anon.: O clavis David [1:05]
Christopher FOX O Antiphons: IV. Open the Gate * [1:53]
Anon.: O Oriens [0:47]
Christopher FOX O Antiphons: V. Morning Star * [2:13]
Anon.: O Rex gentium [0:51]
Christopher FOX O Antiphons: VI. A Cornerstone * [3:21]
Anon.: O Emmanuel [0:53]
Christopher FOX O Antiphons: VII. Trust Above All * [3:51]
Jeremy THURLOW Magnificat * [6:49]
* World premiere recordings

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount