“Lo, how a rose e’er blooming: Music for Christmas”
John Francis Wade (arr. David Willcocks): O come, all ye faithful
William Byrd: Hodie Christus natus est
From the Pageant of Shearman and Tailors (arr. Martin Shaw): Coventry Carol
King Henry VIII: Pastime with good company
Thomas Tallis: O nata lux
From Musae Sioniae (harm. Michael Praetorius): Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
Christopher Tye: Laudate nomen Domini
English traditional, adapted Arthur Sullivan (v.4 arr. David Willcocks): It came upon a midnight clear
Gustav Holst: In the Bleak Mid-winter, H.73/1
Normandy traditional (arr. Reginald Jacques): Away in a manger
Traditional Basque Carol (arr. Edgar Pettman): Gabriel’s Message
Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky: Crown of Roses, op.54/5
English Traditional (arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, v.4 arr. Thomas Armstrong): O little town of Bethlehem
Kenneth Leighton: The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap
Richard Madden: Balulalow
Thomas Hewitt Jones: Lullay, my liking
Richard Rodney Bennett: Out of your sleep
Matthew Coleridge: Corpus Christi Carol
Peter Warlock (arr. Richard Pinel): Adam lay ybounden
From Piae Cantiones (arr. David Willcocks:
Of the Father’s heart begotten
English Traditional (arr. Simon Whiteley): God rest you merry, gentlemen
Jule Styne (arr. Jonathan Darbourne): Let it snow
James Lord Pierpont (arr. Keith Roberts): Jingle Bells
Franz Gruber (arr. Keith Roberts): Silent Night
Felix Mendelssohn (v.3 arr. David Willcocks): Hark! the herald-angels sing
The Queen’s Six: Daniel Brittain, Timothy Carleston (countertenors), Nicholas Madden, Dominic Bland (tenors), Andrew Thompson (baritone), Simon Whiteley (bass), Richard Pinel (organ)
Recorded at Ascot Priory and St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle (8-10 September, 2015) – 72’01
Resonus RES10204 – (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English (texts in original languages with translations in English)
The Queen’s Six have assumed their group’s name not with reference to the current British monarch but to the earlier Elizabeth. They are lay clerks (i.e. choristers) at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle so it is no surprise that this collection of 25 numbers is weighted to the Anglican tradition.
This leaves lots of room for variety, however. The collection starts with a stately processional performance of O come, all ye faithful and concludes with Hark! The herald-angels sing, but in between there are contemporary works (some based on 16th century texts) and traditional favourites mixed with works of composers including King Henry VIII, Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Holst, and Jule Styne.
The title of the CD is in English but the carol is sung in German and might just be the highlight, rivalled perhaps by Holst’s In the bleak mid-winter set to Christina Rosetti’s devotional poem.
Two of the pieces are very solemn, anticipating Good Friday more than Christmas: Tchaikovsky’s Crown of Thrones and Matthew Coleridge’s Corpus Christi Carol set to a fraught poem by G. K. Chesterton.
A member of the group, bass Simon Whitely, has devised a doo wop version of the traditional God rest you merry, gentlemen - a lively bonbon. This leads to a breezy rendition of two American seasonal songs: Let it snow and then the racing, flirtatious Jingle Bells.
(There is one typo in the booklet: the composer of Jingle Bells is James Lord Pierpont, not Pierpoint.)
Some Christmas collections turn out to be keepers that one listens to with delight year after year and others simply fade away. The best have a mix of old and new, religious and secular, with venturesome treatments of some of the beloved old chestnuts. There will inevitably be some David Willcocks arrangements which is always comforting (but let’s not overdo it). This disk has it all, and I predict it will be a keeper.
Here is more information on The Queen’s Six.