Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols, opus 28: “Procession” – “Wolcum Yole!”- “There is no rose” – “This little babe” – “Balulalow” – “Interlude” – “Deo Gracias” – “Recession”
William Mathias: ”Alleluya, a new work is come on hand”, opus 45 N° 2
Henry John Gauntlet (arr. D. Wilcocks): Once in Royal David’s City
Francis Poulenc: ”Hodie Christus natus est”
William J. Kirkpatrick (arr. D. Wilcocks): ”Away in a manger”
Johann Sebastian Bach: ”Gott, durch deine Güte”, BWV 600 – ”Herr Christ, der ein’ge Gottessohn”, BWV 601 – ”Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich”, BWV 605 – ”Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar”, BWV 607
Traditional: ”It came upon the midnight clear” (arr. A. Sullivan, D. Wilcocks) – “Gaudete”
John Gardner: "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day”
Johannes Brahms: ”Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele”, opus 122 N° 5 – “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen”, opus 122 N° 8
George Ratcliffe Woodward (arr. D. Wilcocks): ”Ding Dong! Merrily on high”
Felix Mendelssohn (arr. R. Jeffrey): ”Hark! The herald angels sing”
Clifton Cathedral Choir, Ian Ball (organ), Catherine Snelson (harp), David Ogden (conductor)
Recording: Clifton Cathedral, Bristol, England (1997) – 50’08
Hoxa Sound HS970802 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English
Under the direction of David Ogden, the choir of Clifton Cathedral offers a heartwarming collection of carols for Christmastide interspersed with movements of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. The choir is the ensemble in residence of Clifton Cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral of the city of Bristol, United Kingdom. Despite its “1970s modern” architectural style, the Cathedral provides the resonance and hint of overtones associated with older churches which give the carols in this collection a pleasantly nostalgic ring. The choir, described not nearly enough in the accompanying short booklet, is joined by Ian Ball on the cathedral’s Rieger organ and Catherine Snelson on harp.
The album begins with the “Procession” and “Wolcum Yole!” from Britten’s Ceremony of Carols followed by the cheerful “Alleluya” by William Mathias (1934-1992). The collection includes many carols with familiar texts, but with tunes that are perhaps not so familiar, at least to American audiences. “Away in a Manger” and “It came upon the midnight clear” are two examples. Even ”Es ist ein Ros’ ensprungen” usually sung in the Praetorius setting is offered in a version by Brahms, while the ”Hodie Christus natus est” (“Today Christ is Born”) which I most often hear in the Sweelinck arrangement, is presented with music by the 20th century composer, Francis Poulenc. This gives a little edge to the recording, as the listener occasionally may encounter a serendipitous musical surprise.
In addition to carols and excerpts from Ceremony, the album features four chorale preludes from Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book), BWV 600, 601, 605 and 607. Ian Ball displays both technical mastery and enthusiasm in his performance of these four brief but memorable salvos, of which 601 stood out for its powerful expression of feeling. Complementing some of the more serious hymns were holiday light fare, such as “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day” and “Ding Dong! Merrily on high”.
Catherine Snelson’s playing on the harp was especially lovely in the mystical “Interlude” from the Ceremony. The choir sang one of my favorite carols, the “Gaudete” for which the album is named, with energy and even a bit of swagger.
A very agreeable album overall, and a delightful addition to one’s Christmas holiday collection.