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Running as a thread through the tracks of this Christmas CD are eight of the twelve movements of Benjamin Britten's beautiful and imaginative A Ceremony of Carols from 1942. The movements are performed in pairs, and four of them top and tail the CD, which begins with the words 'Hodie Christus natus est' (today Christ is born) from the opening unaccompanied Procession, based on the Gregorian antiphon. It sounds as if the choristers actually do process towards the microphones on this first track, and the opposite happens in the final matching Recession at the end of the disc.
Listen — Britten: Procession (A Ceremony of Carols)
(track 1, 1:13-1:44) ℗ 1997, 2019 Hoxa Recordings:
The other choral Britten movements are accompanied by Catherine Snelson's expert harp playing.
Listen — Britten: Wolcum Yole! (A Ceremony of Carols)
(track 2, 0:00-0:20) ℗ 1997, 2019 Hoxa Recordings:
Also performed is the gentle Interlude, for harp alone, which reveals Snelson as a sensitive and thoughtful performer.
Listen — Britten: Interlude (A Ceremony of Carols)
(track 15, 0:01-1:01) ℗ 1997, 2019 Hoxa Recordings:
Ian Ball, accompanying some of the carols on the Austrian Rieger organ, gets three solo spots, each of two chorale preludes - two by Brahms and four from J S Bach's Orgelbüchlein.
Listen — J S Bach: Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich, BWV 605
(track 18, 0:40-1:17) ℗ 1997, 2019 Hoxa Recordings:
On this recording we revisit the choir of Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, UK, with recordings made probably in 1997, ten years later than O Magnum Mysterium, reviewed here earlier this month. There's a change in personnel, and now we have a digital recording and no apparent background noises.
Some of the carol settings here are the usual pot-boilers, sung by choirs around the UK and elsewhere, but there are also some more unusal pieces, such as Mendelssohn's Hark! The Herald Angels Sing in a version credited to 'R Jeffrey (Hoxa)', who I assume is Richard Jeffrey-Gray who runs the Hoxa Recordings label and who recorded this disc. One of his contributions appears to be the soaring last verse descant.
Listen — Mendelssohn, arranged Jeffrey: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
(track 21, 2:15-2:59) ℗ 1997, 2019 Hoxa Recordings:
To my ear, this 1997 choir has a crisper sound than its 1987 vintage, and the ensemble is neater.
Listen — John Gardner: Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
(track 17, 1:21-1:56) ℗ 1997, 2019 Hoxa Recordings:
There's a tantalisingly brief single page of notes, including a fascinating and informative paragraph about the music which makes me, at least, wish that whoever wrote this had provided a longer essay. The words '... we discover that the very concept of Christmas undergoes constant reinterpretation' couldn't be more true in these strange times of COVID-19, YouTube-streamed Zoom carol services and Google Blob Opera.
Copyright © 24 December 2020