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O Magnum Mysterium – Music for Christmas from Clifton Cathedral
Christmas carols and organ pieces – Please see end of review for full details
The Cathedral Choir of Clifton Cathedral, Bristol/Christopher Walker and John Gibbons
rec. 23, 24 October 1987, Clifton Cathedral
HOXA HS071027 [52:45]

This collection of Christmas carols and organ music is a very well judged mixture of the well-known and the relatively obscure. As Hoxa explains, the selection successfully traverses the centuries – from the ancient and beautifully sung “Coventry Carol” through to the radiantly beautiful setting of “O Magnum Mysterium” by Poulenc (1899-1963). In my opinion the Poulenc is a stand-out and deserving of several replays: one of the benefits of a comparatively short CD. Along with such favourites as “Away in a Manger”, “The Sussex Carol” and the unique “Silent Night”, this volunteer choir (I refrain from using the word “amateur” as that unfairly implies lack of professionalism which would be incorrect as well as grossly unfair) tackles very capably indeed the lesser known joys such as Jacob Handl’s “Resonet In Laudibus”, Sweelinck’s “Hodie Christus Natus Est” and “In Dulci Jubilo”. They are keen to point out these reflect the choir’s consistent championship of music from the Renaissance era as well as more modern times.

As the astute reader will observe, this collection is over thirty years old and has been refurbished and given the aural equivalent of a fresh coat of paint. It’s great to see that the fine organist in the Bach Chorale Preludes that appear at appropriate moments in the vocal programme, is John Gibbons. He returned after over ten years as choral director of the choir. Amongst Mr Gibbons’ many achievements are recordings with both the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia and conducting the Royal Philharmonic for the first Classic FM "Hall of Fame' concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

The final organ piece is a NoŽl by Daquin, a Parisian who wrote a collection of twelve NoŽls based on ancient country dances. I had the pleasure of hearing one of this composer’s NoŽls at the annual Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford’s Carol service. I understand that Louis-Claude Daquin (1694-1772) was a French composer of Jewish ancestry, writing in the Baroque and Galant styles. He was a virtuoso organist and harpsichordist and attracted hordes of fans to hear his recitals in Paris churches. Very unusually, the “NoŽl” with which I am familiar, makes a “guest appearance”, so to speak, on the bonus disc of the excellent bargain box “Eugen Jochum-The Orchestral recordings on Philips”; the latter recorded at the Benedictine Abbey of Ottobeuren, where Jochum made his celebrated “live” recording of Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony. That set received a very positive review by Jonathan Woolf and I hope to do a second in due course.

Finally, I should refer to the location - The Cathedral Church of SS Peter & Paul, Clifton. Its original design is based on hexagons and allows the altar to be placed towards the centre of the interior and close to the people. As the resplendent sounds of Daquin’s “NoŽl” triumphantly emerge from my system, I can attest to the superb acoustic of the building, which together with one of the finest organs in the country – the three manual Rieger – make it an ideal venue for music, both liturgical and secular.

As should be clear from the above notes, this original choral collection is very successful and certainly deserves reissue. Time prevented me playing it as much as I’d like but without hesitation, for those looking for a slightly unusual Christmas CD for oneself or as a gift, look no further.
David R Dunsmore
Previous review: John France

Jacob HANDL (1550-91) Resonet in Laudibus [1:25]
William James KIRKPATRICK (1838-1921) arr. Geoffrey MENDHAM (1899-1984) Away in a Manger [3:10]
Trad. Arr. David WILLCOCKS (1919-2015) Sussex Carol [1:52]
J.S. BACH (1685-1750) Wachet Auf, BWV 645 [4:48]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) O Magnum Mysterium [3:39]
J.S BACH Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BWV 604 [1:24]
J.S. BACH Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich BWV 605 [2:00]
Coventry Carol, original 1591 version [3:56]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621) Hodie Christus natus est [3:22]
J.S. BACH In dulci jubilo BWV 608 [1:35]
Arr. Robert Lucas PEARSALL (1795-1856) In dulci jubilo [3:48]
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787-1863) arr. Christopher WALKER (b.1947) Silent Night [3:33]
J.S. BACH Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter BWV 650 [3:20]
Harold DARKE (1888-1976) In the bleak midwinter [4:25]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) Bethlehem Down [3:42]
CŲlner Gesangbuch 1623, arr. David WULSTAN (1937-2017) Echo Carol [2:34]
Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772) NoŽl Suisse [4:01]

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