Thursday 12 December 2019

Christmas CD Round up

Bach: Christmas Oratorio - Thomanerchor Leipzig - Accentus
This year's Christmas round-up has carols old and new, alongside music from the Spanish golden age, Bach's Christmas Oratorio, a disc of contemporary music by Ben Parry, and even arrangements by Rick Wakeman. A poignant tribute to Sir Stephen Cleobury is King's College, Cambridge's recording of the Centenary Service of Nine Lessons & Carols. Young voices are particularly prominent, not only the trebles at King's, but the girls choir from Ely Cathedral, and the choirs of both Westminster School and Benenden School, plus of course the Thomanerchor Leipzig.
Stile Antico - A Spanish Nativity

Christmas Oratorio: This has a nicely balanced lyric quartet of young soloists (Dorothee Mields, soprano, Elvira Bill, alto, Markus Schafer tenor arias, Klaus Hager - bass) plus Patrick Grahl as the Evangelist, with some admirably straight toned singing but what strikes most is the performance of the boys (or rather young men and boys) of the Thomanerchor Leipzig. A large, all male-voice group which gives a distinctive sound to Bach's choral writing, complemented by a stylish performance from the Leipzig Gewandhuasorchester, all recorded live under the direction of Gotthold Schwarz, the current Thomaskantor. Whilst not period style, Schwarz keeps things moving and keeps textures light, often with a lovely sense of joy in the choruses. Also on DVD.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) - Christmas Oratorio
Dorothee Mields, Elivra Bill, Patrick Grahl, Markus Schafer, Klaus Hager, Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhuasorchester Leipzig, Gotthold Schwarz

O Holy Night: London Choral Sinfonia
A Spanish Nativity: Music from the Spanish Golden Age, with Alonso Lobo's Missa Beata Dei genitrix Maria and music by Victoira, Guerrero, Mateo Flecha 'El Viejo' Rimonte, and Morales performed by Stile Antico. Centred around Lobo's Missa Beata Dei genitrix Maira based on Guerroro's motet of the same name (also on the disc), Stile Antico weave a seductive thread through the intensity of the Spanish 17th century music alongside a selection of villancicos (literally 'peasant songs') by Guerroro (showing he had a lighter side) and others. The sacred music is beautifully sung in Stile Antico's familiar style with an emphasis on beauty of line plus a nice intensity. They change style for the villancicos, and you can't help wishing they had brought a little of that raw intensity to the sacred music.

Music by Tomas Luis de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero, Alonso Lobo, Mateo Flecha 'El Viejo', Pedro Rimonte, Christobal de Morales
Stile Antico (Helen Ashby, Kate Ashby, Rebecca Hickey, Emma Ashby, Cara Curran, Eleanor Harries Clarke, Katie Schofield, Andrew Griffiths, Benedict Hymas, Thomas Kelley, James Arthur, WIll Dawes, Nathan Harrison)
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM 902312 1CD [64:17]

Now May we Singen - Choir of Westminster School
O Holy Night: If it is carols that you want, then I cannot recommend this new disc enough. There is a leavening of traditional carols in both the David Willcocks arrangements and new ones, all lustily sung by the young professionals of the London Choral Sinfonia, which means that the lovely descants are all thrillingly in place. But there are also new and not so new novelties by Carol Canning, Peter Maxwell Davies, Richard Pantcheff, Robert Saxton, Humphrey Clucas, Thomas Wilson and Gabriel Jackson, alongside modern classics by William Matthias, Peter Warlock, John Ireland and more.

London Choral Sinfonia
Andrew Carter, William Mathias, Carol Canning, John West, HJ Gauntlett, David Willcocks, Peter Warlock, Peter Maxwell Davies, Richard Pantcheff, JF Wade, Thomas Wilson, Robert Saxton, Jonathan Rathbone, Humphrey Clucas, Martin Neary, Paul Edwards, Mendelssohn, John Ireland, Adolphe Adam, Max Pappenheim, Gabriel Jackson, Thomas Olivers
Sam Lewis, Adam Stockbridge (trumpet)
Matthew Fletcher (piano)
Max Pappenheim (organ)
Michael Waldron

Ben Parry: Music for Christmas - Regent Records
Now may we singen: This disc of music for Advent and Christmas combines anthems, carols and motets with a seasonal theme, arranged to roughly take us through the Christmas story. The choir is that of Westminster School, so we have trebles and girls on the top line and similar mixture of sexes on the alto line, and young male voices for the tenors and basses. The results have an engaging freshness and vitality under the direction of director of music Timothy Garrad. The programme certainly does not stint. Whilst there are familiar carols there is also music from Judith Weir, James MacMillan, Ghislaine Reece-Trapp, John Tavener, Richard Allain, Cecilia McDowall, Roxanna Panufnik, Richard Wilberforce, and Alexander Campkin. And the disc opens with a wonderful bang with Matthew Martin's carol Novo profusi gaudio.

Matthew Martin, Judith Weir, HJ Gauntlett, Arthur Henry Mann, James O'Donnell, James MacMIllan, Ghislaine Reece-Trapp, Andrew Carter, John Tavener, Arthur Sullivan, David Willcocks, Richard Allain, Cecilia McDowall, John Rutter, RVW, Timothy Garrad, Elizabeth Poston, Roxanna Panufnik, Richard Wilberforce, Felix Mendelssohn, William Mathias, Alexander Campkin
Choir of Wesminster School
Ben Bloor (organ)
Timothy Garrad

Make we Merry - Benenden School Choir - Regent Records
Ben Parry: Music for Christmas: Composer Ben Parry started out as a member of King's College Choir and then the King's Singers, and is now well known both as a composer and a music director. This disc brings together a selection of his music with a Christmas theme, these range from anthems and carols to the Magnificat from Parry's Solihull Service. The music is always imaginatively written and Parry's background as a singer and arranger for the King's Singers is clear from the highly effective way he uses his forces to create music that is approachable but interesting. The performances are largely given by the chapel choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, with some contributions from Ely Cathedral Girls Choir.

Ben Parry (born 1965) - Music for Christmas
The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge
Ely Cathedral Girls' Choir
Prime Brass
Craig Apps and Sam Wilson (percussion)
Adam McDonagh (piano)
Michael Stephens-Jones (organ)
Aaron Shilson (organ)
Sarah MacDonald (conductor)

A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols - The Centenary Service
Make We Merry:  More young voices, this time the young women from Benenden Chapel Choir. Instead of giving us a sequence of Christmas carols and anthems, the choir and conductor Edward Whiting have opted for three sequences by contemporary composers, David Bednall's Make We Merry which was written for the choir (Bednall's Stabat Mater was written for the choir and recorded by them in 2015), Bob Chilcott's carol sequence The Midnight of your Birth, and Snow Angel by Canadian composer Sarah Quartel, originally written for the women's choir Les Choristes of Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. The results contrasts three different, but approachable, contemporary voices. Bednall's music is lyric and melodic with some imaginative writing for his chosen forces of choir, brass and percussion. Chilcott's music here showcases his brilliant ability to write ear-worms, yet never seem to be repeating himself or writing down. Sarah Quartel's music brings in another, interesting lyric voices

David Bednall - Make We Merry; Bob Chilcott - The Midnight of your Birth; Sarah Quartel - Snow Angel
Benenden Chapel Choir
London Metropolitan Brass
David Bednall (piano and organ)
Kizzy Brooks (percussion)
Rebecca Naught (cello)
Adam Harrod (djembe)
Edward Whiting (conductor)
REGENT REGCD547 1CD [65:18]

Advent Carols from King's College, London - DELPHIAN
A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols: The Centenary Service: The Service of Nine Lessons and Carol from King's College, Cambridge is the archetype of countless other services of the same type. This recording was made live in 2018 at the service celebrating the centenary of the institution of the Nine Lessons and Carols, but Sir Stephen Cleobury's death means that the disc has also become a memorial to the man who, from 1982 to 2019, was director of music. The music on the disc is thus, all chosen by Cleobury and reflects the many threads that run through the service during Cleobury's tenure, with a new carol from Judith Weir, plus music by Boris Ord, Elizabeth Poston, John Rutter, Herbert Howells, William Mathias, John Tavener and Arvo Part. But also key is the sound of the choir, and of the acoustic of the chapel. The lavish book, includes the full order of service along with articles from Cleobury, Bob Chilcott (a former chorister), John Butt (a former organ scholar), John Rutter, Judith Bingham, and the Revd Dr Stephen Cherry (chaplain 1989-1994, and Dean from 2014).

A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols
The Revd Dr Stephen Cherry (Dean)
The Revd Andrew Hammon (chaplain)
The Choir of King's College, Cambridge
Henry Websdale & Donal McCann (organ scholars)
Guy Johnston (cello)
Sir Stephen Cleobury (conductor)

The Secret Life of Carols: The Telling
Advent Carols: This disc from The Choir of King's College, London and conductor Joseph Fort, explores the repertoire the choir uses in its annual Advent Carol Service. The disc starts with the Advent Prose, and threading the way through the programme are the Sarum chant versions of the great O Antiphons, and we end with Hildegard of Bingen's O frondens virga. In between we have music by Lassus, Palestrina and Byrd along with Advent carols and motets from Philip Moore (whose motet Sancte et sapienter is a setting of the King's College prayer written for the institution's 175th anniversary), Joel Rust, Cecilia McDowall, George Benjamin (who is Professor of Composition at King's College, London), plus the Magnificat by Kerensa Briggs (who studied at Kings). All finely sung by the young singers from King's College, some 25 of them (with a mix of men and women on the alto line).

Advent Carols from King's College London
Palestrina, Philip Moore, Lassus, Joel Rust, Byrd, Cecilia McDowall, George Benjamin, William Byrd, Kerensa Briggs, Hildegard of Bingen
The choir of King's College, London
Michael Butterfield (organ)
Joseph Fort (conductor)
DELPHIAN DCD34226 1CD [64.56]

Rick Wakemen: Christmas PortraitsThe Secret Life of Carols: A delightful disc from The Telling (Clare Norburn - voice, Arianne Prussner - voice, frame drum, Jean Kelly - celtic & medieval harps, Kaisa Pulkkinen - baroque & medieval harps) which takes the carol back to its Medieval origins. One or two, such as the Coventry Carol, are still current today, but others are entirely unfamiliar. The main focus is England, but we also have carols from Germany, Catalonia, Finland, and Ireland. The material moves from the 12th century Gabriel fram evene king through to Franz Gruber's Stille Nacht (1818). A must for those interested in the history of carols, and a disc full of evocative performances.

The Secret Life of Carols: 800 years of Christmas Music
The Telling
FHR FHR94 1CD [51.17]

Christmas Portraits: My final disc is something of a novelty item, as it consists of a selection of well known carols in piano arrangements, created by and played by Rick Wakeman. The result is a surprisingly intimate disc from one often associated with larger-scale electronic rock. The arrangements give a popular music slant to the carols, not everyone will enjoy them but the results are thoughtful and certainly not the usual hackney versions.

Rick Wakeman: Christmas Portraits
Christmas carols arranged by Rick Wakeman
Rick Wakeman (piano)
SONY MUSIC 10975967542 1CD

Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Gotthold Schwarz
Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Gotthold Schwarz
Elsewhere on this blog
  • Reviving Ethel Smyth's dance dream: Fete Galante from Restrospect Opera  (★★★★½)  - CD review
  • In the salon of Mlle de Guise: Solomon's Knot take us to 17th century France with a pair of Christmas pastorals by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (★★★★) - concert review
  • From Dvorak to Reich: the Arcis Saxophone Quartet in American Dreams at Conway Hall (★★★★)  -  concert review
  • Oh that all opera bouffe could be delivered with such panache: Offenbach's La Belle Hélène from New Sussex Opera (★★★★) - opera review
  • Creating a counter-factual history of brass chamber music: I chat to Simon Cox & Matthew Knight from the brass-septet Septura  - interview
  • Weber's Der Freischütz in a fine new modern recording with Lise Davidsen as Agathe (★★★★) - CD review
  • Westminster Cathedral Choir at Choral at Cadogan  - concert review
  • Serenata Mexicana: engaging new music from Mexico (★★★½) - Cd review
  • Leaving us wanting more: Jamie Barton has the audience on the palm of her hand in this finely sung recital at Wigmore Hall (★★★★½) - concert review
  • As a young singer you definitely have to give yourself to patience: I chat to counter-tenor James Hall, currently in Handel's Rinaldo & looking forward to Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream - interview 
  • Hearing anew: two contemporary quartets and an established classic in the Sacconi Quartet's programme at Kings Place (★★★★) - concert review
  • Music for Milan Cathedral: Maestro di cappella in Milan for nearly 30 years, yet a 16th century composer we have never heard of, until now (★★★★) - cd review
  • Vivid and passionate: chamber music in Highgate  - Beethoven, Britten, Ludwig, Dohnanyi at Highgate International Chamber Music Festival (★★★★) - concert review
  • Home

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