Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
One of my listening highlights from Christmas 2018 was 'An Ely Christmas' where Sarah MacDonald directed the cathedral choirs in a varied programme that included "Three Angels" by composer Ben Parry. Well, here she is again, this time with the Ely Cathedral Girls' Choir and The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge along with some guest instrumentalists and once again recorded at Ely Cathedral with Gary Cole producing. This new Regent Record release is entirely devoted to the compositions of Ben Parry (born 1965) with new choral music for the entire Christmas season from Advent to Epiphany. In addition to settings and arrangements of traditional texts there are several new carols with original words by Garth Bardsley (also born 1965). Ben Parry is a distinguished and versatile musician. He studied at Cambridge, where he was a member of King's College Choir. In the mid-1980s he joined The Swingle Singers as a singer, arranger and music director, touring globally and has subsequently been Director of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus, Director of Choral Music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and conductor of Haddon House Opera. He co-founded the Dunedin Consort, was Director of Music at St Paul's School, London, then Director of the Junior Academy at the Royal Academy of Music. He is currently Artistic Director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and Assistant Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge. As a composer and arranger, he has an extensive catalogue including the popular Faber Carol Book and on this disc we hear the evidence of his ability as he gives us a wide-ranging programme, all ably sung by the two choirs which allows us to concentrate on the content. With 70 minutes of music to enjoy and with each piece having its own history, all outlined in the helpful CD booklet notes by Richard Longman, it is difficult to give a comprehensive review. The short one is to say that this is music for listeners to enjoy and which choirs, whether amateur of professional, should consider adding to their repertoire although only time will tell if any will be sung by congregations during Christmas services. I particularly enjoyed "Five Carols for SATB and piano" and could imagine my own village choir attempting these. The piano is played by Adam McDonagh and four of the five are settings of popular traditional songs. By contrast the concluding "Magi", another Garth Bardsley poem, feature Cambridge-based quartet Prime Brass supplemented by Craig Apps and Sam Wilson on percussion and packs an extra punch that brings the programme to a triumphal conclusion. With excellent performances throughout and compositions that deserves repeated listens this collection is well worth investigating.
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