Be all joyful
The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin, Irish Chamber Orchestra / Desmond Earley
The Choral Scholars of University College, Dublin recently celebrated their 20th anniversary, and Be All Merry is a celebration of the high standards they have achieved under the artistic direction of Desmond Earley. The recording mixes interesting arrangements of familiar tunes with contemporary works, including haunting Irish language sets by Fionntán Ó Cearbhaill and Adhamhnán Mac Domhnaill. No less than half of the two dozen choir members come out for solos, revealing the profound quality of Earley’s singers. The dazzling tonal mix it elicits is a constant pleasure, and there is a real emotional connection to the performances.
Alpha & O: Music for Advent and Christmas
The choirs of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge / Edward Wickham
English composer Christopher Fox’s O Antiphons were first performed in their entirety by the Choir of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge in March of this year, and recorded a few days later. They form the centerpiece of Alpha & O, a record that also features music by Judith Weir, Diana Burrell and Jeremy Thurlow. Each of Fox’s seven antiphons is preceded by the corresponding Gregorian chant, sharply juxtaposing the harmonic audacity of Fox’s harmonic language. Some of the tight intervals put the chorus to the test, but Edward Wickham’s astute direction guarantees generally convincing results.
Britten: a singing ceremony
Clare College Choir, Cambridge / Graham Ross
Harmonia Mundi HMM 905329
A vibrant and crystal-clear rendition of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols (the four-part version) is at the heart of a new album by the mixed-voice choir at Clare College, Cambridge. Conductor Graham Ross relishes the lust of “Wolcum Yole!” without allowing for scrappiness, and ‘There is no rose’ has a wealth of dynamic detail with seductive contours. Tanya Houghton’s harp playing is unfailingly sensitive. A cover of shorter pieces by Britten is also included, as are works from Ireland, Bridge and Holst. A warm blend, a fresh attack and a lively feeling of vitality mark the whole song, and the sound is excellent.
Chanticleer sings Christmas
Warner Classics 9029522888
The San Francisco-based 12-man vocal group Chanticleer is now in its fifth decade, and Chanticleer Sings Christmas was recorded immediately following a 2019 seasonal concert series. The repertoire is very diverse, from plainsong to Renaissance composers such as as Victoria and Hassler, including pieces commissioned by Chanticleer from Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Steven Sametz and Rosephanye Powell. Technically the vocals are impeccable, although some of the arrangements (‘Away in a Manger’, ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’) can be a bit watered down for some. The sound is also close, giving a somewhat studio-related feel.
Christmas sacred treasures
Xavier Ferros (tenor), The London Oratory Schola Cantorum / Charles Cole
The London Oratory Schola Cantorum sings mass at school every Saturday night during school time, and Sacred Treasures of Christmas is a selection of liturgical motets that he uses for the holiday season. A feast from the Renaissance repertoire is presented, ranging from the sounding chimes of Hodie Christus natus est by Sweelinck to the penetrating introspection of the O magnum mysterium by Victoria. The 50-person oratory choir is made up entirely of boys, and conductor Charles Cole draws a song of spring freshness, with an excellent ensemble and an interpretive conscience that puts many adult choirs in the shade. This is a highly recommended recording.
A Tudor Christmas
Trinity Boys Choir / David Swinson
A byte of singers from the Trinity Boys Choir features seasonal music from a bygone era. Obviously posed, perhaps, but with a warm and intimate atmosphere all the same.
A winter night
Winchester College Chapel Choir, Onyx Brass, Benja
Signum Classics SIGCD646
Despite some sound mixing issues in the choir, the brass adds dynamism and liveliness to this selection of old and new vocals, making it a pleasantly festive listening.
Advent Live, Vol. 2
St John’s College Choir, Cambridge / Andrew Nethsingha
Signum Classics SIGCD661
The fantastic balance of hymns, hymns and organ music is evident in this striking and fabulously performed Advent program from St John’s, Cambridge.
SWR Vokalensemble / Marcus Kreed
Exaltation: Christmas carol
Dagmar Peckova; Musica Bohemica; Jaroslav Krček
Ave Rex Angeloroum
Keble College Choir, Oxford / Matthew Martin
A festive album in much darker hues without a lot of garlands and bells, but no worse for that. The three Christmas carols by Keble’s conductor, Matthew Martin, are the highlight.
Leipzig Christmas Concertos
Kammerchor der Christuskirche Karlsruhe, L’arpa Festante
Christmas music at St. Thomas in Leipzig
Bad Homburg Chamber Choir
Vox Clara (Latvian Medieval and Christmas Music)
Schola Cantorum Riga
Advent Songs from King’s College London
King’s College Choir, London / Joseph Fort
A beautifully atmospheric recording of the Advent service at King’s College London. Do not miss the news, especially Georges benjamin‘s and Kerensa Briggs.
Gesualdo Six / Owain Park
A delicious album by a masculine whole a cappella the group is hard to find – too often they are po-face or schmaltzy; but it is neither. An elegant blend of old and new.
In dulci jubilo
Harmonia Sacra / Peter Leech
Nimbus NI 6391
All the words from your favorite Christmas carols, but unexpected music galore – courtesy of exciting new arrangements by a diverse quartet of composers. Sung well, although the sound is quite close.
Schütz: The story of Christmas and other works
Yale Schola Cantorum / David Hill
Schütz’s Italian-style oratorio is one of the masterpieces of early Baroque and is beautifully performed here. The vocals and instruments are superbly balanced in the rich texture recorded.
Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet), Heida Arnadottir (vocals), Hilmar Jensson (guitar), Kristin Thora Haraldsdottir (viola), Eirikus Orri Olafsson (trumpet)
Winter & Winter 910 260-2
Your dark Christmas begins here. Based on Icelandic folklore, this musical poem is dark, gloomy, and often eerily atmospheric. Beautiful, yes, but “Jingle Bells” certainly isn’t.
Make us happy
Benenden Chapel Choir, London Metropolitan Brass
The cheerfulness here is rather sober, but not without charm. There is a welcome sparkle in Bednall’s brass handwriting, and Chilcott’s entry has a melancholy innocence.
Oh holy night
London Choir Sinfonia / Michael Waldron
Orchid Classics ORC 100110
A substantial Christmas banquet by Michael Waldron and a richly toned LCS, bringing together both traditional and modern Christmas carols. Warming up.
Now May We Singen: Music for Advent and Christmas
Ben Bloor (organ), Choir of Westminster School / Timothy Garrard
Signum Classics SIGCD595
When it comes to school choirs, Westminster School’s is pretty good, its dynamic range and mix is top notch. An ambitious but attractive program.
Nowell synge we bothe al and som: A Feast of Christmas Music in Medieval England
Gothic Voices will soon be celebrating its 40th anniversary and will be celebrating with Nowell synge us Bothe al and som, a new program of medieval songs and motets for the Christmas period. The material is a mixture of plainsong and polyphony, arranged for various combinations of the four members of the ensemble.
A spanish crib
Harmonia Mundi HMM902312
Alonso Lobo’s Missa Beata Dei genitrix Maria is the flagship work of A Spanish Nativity, a new record by the British 12-voice ensemble Stile Antico. Their attention-grabbing ability is immediately evident in an introspective and perfectly controlled account of the Missa’s opening Kyrie, while the poignant Agnus Dei brings out the band’s supple expressiveness and impeccable tuning.
The Waiting Sky: Advent and Christmas music
Resonus Classics RES10250
Sansara released an acclaimed debut album two years ago, and his new record The Waiting Sky adopts a similar formula of mixing old and new music. On the contemporary side, the thrilling rhythms of Judith Weir‘Ave Regina caelorum’ draws a feather-like lightness from the 16 voices of the choir.
The Secret Life of Carols: 800 Years of Christmas Music
to say it
First hand FHR094
How did Christmas music sound in the medieval world? We don’t know for sure, but The Telling is a band that specializes in this time period, and in The Secret Life of Carols they go back centuries to find answers. With two harpists sharing the accompaniments, the aesthetic is sparse, suggesting an intimate domestic setting. The overall effect is auditory purifying and the recorded sound is exceptional.
Sofi Jennin, Maîtrise de Radio France et al
There is a delicious flavor and freshness in the vocals and the accompaniments of period instruments. A second disc contains at random the “greatest hits” of baroque music, including Bach‘s Magnificat, Handel‘s Dixit Dominus and Corelli’s Christmas Concerto.
Christmas in St George’s Windsor
The Choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle / James Vivian; Luke Bond (organ)
When it comes to recordings, the choir at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle has often been overshadowed by the choirs of London Cathedrals and the main choirs of Oxford and Cambridge colleges. But two recent royal weddings have put St George’s in the spotlight, and this new record shows that its all-male choir is a force to be reckoned with. Conductor James Vivian deserves great credit for his preparation of the singers, whose dedication and artistry make this recital a deeply satisfying tale.
Errollyn Wallen: Peace on Earth
King’s College Choir, Cambridge
King’s College KGS0050
Errollyn Wallen’s choral music – performed here with clarity, precision and care – is truly glorious. It is a constant source of surprise and joy.
You can find the lyrics to many of your favorite Christmas carols here