O Magnum Mysterium. © 2007 Hoxa Recordings

CD Spotlight

Firm Yuletide Favourites

KEITH BRAMICH listens to a wide range of Christmas carols from Clifton Catholic Cathedral

'Generally, everything is well-sung, tight and in-tune.'


Clifton Catholic Cathedral, or, more properly, the Cathedral Church of Saints Peter and Paul, opened in 1973. The modern concrete building in the brutalist style, has a fine acoustic. This is apparent when first listening to this well-recorded and wide-ranging CD of Christmas choral and organ music. The sound is open, fresh and clear.

Included is some unusual, interesting and sometimes quirky music, such as William Kirkpatrick's Away in a Manger, arranged by Geoffrey Mendham (1899-1984), who taught piano to one of the conductors on this recording, Christopher Walker.

Listen — Kirkpatrick, arranged Mendham: Away in a Manger
(track 2, 0:00-0:55) ℗ 2007 Hoxa :

Also present are firm yuletide favourites - David Willcocks' arrangement of The Sussex Carol, and Harold Darke's In the Bleak Midwinter (with uncredited first-verse soloist).

The selection, ranging from the sixteenth century to the twentieth, includes one of my favourite carols, Peter Warlock's Bethlehem Down.

Listen — Warlock: Bethlehem Down
(track 15, 0:00-0:50) ℗ 2007 Hoxa :

There's also a rendition of a carol completely new to me - the Echo Carol from the 1623 Cölner Gesangbuch, arranged by David Wulstan and performed here with two choral groups, one near and one in the distance.

The recordings were made decades ago, in 1987, by the current head of the cathedral's Music Service, Richard Jeffrey-Gray, who also runs the CD label Hoxa Recordings. In 2007 he restored, re-edited and remastered the original analogue tapes. One of the choir directors on the recording, John Gibbons, who also plays six organ solos on the CD, is still the cathedral's choral director. The other conductor, Christopher Walker, now lives in California, and has directed music at St Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Los Angeles since 2000. He is represented here as an arranger, too, of Gruber's Silent Night. Again the solo is uncredited, this time in the second verse.

Listen — Gruber, arranged C Walker: Silent Night
(track 12, 1:30-2:14) ℗ 2007 Hoxa :

Generally, everything is well-sung, tight and in-tune. There's good diction, but occasional ragged consonants. The pitch drops very slightly during the unaccompanied original 1591 version of the Coventry Carol, and is a bit uncertain at the start of Poulenc's gorgeous but difficult O magnum mysterium. Occasionally, I get the sense of some sort of 'noises off', such as at the start of the Poulenc, and also about half way through the same piece, just before the word jacentem is sung for the second time, but these are just minor niggles.

Listen — Poulenc: O magnum mysterium
(track 5, 0:00-1:00) ℗ 2007 Hoxa :

The presentation is a bit minimal, with just one small CD-size page of liner notes, but the four-page booklet does include an atmospheric black-and-white photo of Clifton Cathedral in the snow.

Copyright © 6 December 2020 Keith Bramich,
Worcestershire, UK





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