Christmas Carols - SWR Vokal Ensemble. © 2020 Naxos Deutschland Musik & Video Vertriebs GmbH

CD Spotlight

An Integral Part of Christmas

Carols from the SWR Vokal Ensemble, heard by GERALD FENECH

'... beautifully shaped and vocally refined and the voices come across clear and resonant.'


Christmas carols have always been an integral part of the Festive Season, along with turkey, mistletoe and mince pies. Performed in the major churches and cathedrals, but primarily in the chapel of King's College, Cambridge, these traditional pieces are, maybe, the lynchpin and the main attraction of our celebrations. But this was not always so, and this close link between Christmas and carol developed over a substantial period of time. It was only in the nineteenth century, after centuries of experimentation, that the Christmas carol became an integral part of Christmas, when the emphasis of this feast started to shift heavily towards the commercial aspect rather than the religious one.

Listen — Robert Parsons: Ave Maria
(track 2, 0:01-0:44) © 2018 SWR Media Services GmbH :

First references to caroles of Cristemas can be found in British sources from around 1400. Two centuries later the carol started taking the form of a complex polyphonic choral work, such as William Byrd's six-part Carroll for Christmas Day (1611).

From the beginning of the twentieth century this genre gained renewed appreciation from such eminent composers as Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten and Herbert Howells among others.

Listen — Herbert Howells: Sing Lullaby
(track 15, 0:00-0:56) © 2018 SWR Media Services GmbH :

The credit of all this has to go to Ralph Vaughn Williams' musicological research and to the broad dissemination of traditional carols through the Oxford Book of Carols. This recording presents an array of composers from the Middle Ages to the present day and, while most of the names are unfamiliar, the music brilliantly captures the essential essence of the traditional British Christmas.

Listen — Peter Wishart: Alleluya, A New Work Is Come On Hand
(track 6, 1:13-1:50) © 2018 SWR Media Services GmbH :

As to the singing, it is beautifully shaped and vocally refined and the voices come across clear and resonant. Sound and notes are of a consistent high quality. Deserves a place on the shelf of anyone who loves choral music.

Copyright © 18 November 2020 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta





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