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 Recording of the Week  Christmas Releases

With advent starting yesterday and Christmas fast approaching I thought I’d take the opportunity this week to fill you in with some of this 2009's best new releases with that seasonal theme in mind. And this year there seem to be a bumper crop of genuinely interesting and enjoyable things to listen to. Over recent years the Choir of Westminster Cathedral have made a number of very fine Christmas releases and this year is no exception, digging up an excellent collection of mainly Renaissance polyphony mixed with liturgical sequences from the vaults of the Cathedral. It is beautifully sung and excellently recorded by Hyperion. I’ve put the Sanctus and Benedictus from Monteverdi’s Messa a 4 da Cappella (1650) below to give you an idea.

Christmas Music
Christmas Music

Moving into the twentieth (and even twenty-first) century the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge has produced a fascinating disc that juxtaposes contemporary Christmas music with seasonal music from the middle ages. The relationship is very appropriate as more and more contemporary composers are going back to the medieval ages to find texts for their Christmas music, and the resulting programme is challenging but seems to work well. I’ll say immediately that this isn’t a disk to have on in the background while decorating the Christmas tree, but if you sit down, read the excellent booklet and soak it up there is much to enjoy. And don’t be put of by the word ‘contemporary’ - there is plenty of very accessible and enjoyable music on here. I’ve put a lovely setting by Howard Skempton of To Bethlem did they go for you to listen to below which illustrates this (and the lovely sound which the choir make) perfectly.

For a single disc presenting a mix of Christmas music from all periods and all countries it is hard to top Ex Cathedra’s new release ‘Joy in the morning’. The Birmingham based Chamber Choir sing with a warmth of sound and collective voice that is almost unmatched in the world today. It is a lovely disc which mixes well-known standards with seldom-heard rarities. I’ve chosen John Gardner's entertaining setting of The holly and the ivy to give you a flavour.

And finally this years budget-priced bargain of the year has to be Naxos’s new Christmas Anthology of English composers named after the Finzi Cantata In Terra Pax. Like the Ex Cathedra disc there is a mixture of favourites and new discoveries. The Finzi Cantata is the longest work and receives an excellent performance with baritone Roderick Williams on outstanding form, and soprano Julia Doyle soaring high like the angel she portrays. The orchestra has a warm tone and the City of London Choir is excellent. The Finzi is a bit long to give you as the sample here so instead I’ve opted for William Mathias’ short Sir Christemas which shows off the choir at the energetic best.

There are many other new seasonal releases worth a look and you can browse full details of them on our special Christmas page here.

From the vaults of Westminster Cathedral

The Choir of Westminster Cathedral, Martin Baker

Available Format: CD

Into This World, This Day Did Come

Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, Geoffrey Webber

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Joy in the morning

Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

In Terra Pax - A Christmas Anthology

Julia Doyle (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone) & Mark Williams (organ and piano), City of London Choir & Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Hilary Davan Wetton

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC