Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
We all associate Christmas with special hymns to celebrate the birth of Jesus and many of us will misuse the label "carol" to describe them although, pedantically, a carol was originally a seasonal dance. However, during the Cromwellian repression when the celebration of Christmas was banned these Christmas songs went underground. Although no longer used in official church services they were still sung and gradually took on lives of their own as a sort of spiritual folk music. Think of the Mellstock Quire in Hardy's Under The Greenwood Tree to get an idea. In this pleasant collection 10 of the best British composers of the 20th century have reclaimed these folk pieces and arranged them for full choir and orchestra. The choir in question is the City Of London Choir, one of the very best amateur choirs in the country and the orchestra is the ever reliable Bournemouth Symphony. The end result is very tuneful and, perhaps, over elaborated although this is very much a matter of personal taste. The composers are, in order of appearance: Gustav Holst (1874-1934), John Joubert (born 1927), William Matthias (1934-1992), Herbert Howells (1892-1983), Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), Peter Warlock (1894-1930), Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988), John Rutter (born 1945), John Gardner (born 1917) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). I have not listed the titles as often they are vague ("Christmas Day", for example) but when you hear them you will recognise many familiar tunes that have been borrowed and re-worked and, generally speaking, given a fresh coat of paint. You may not find yourself singing along but I am sure you will find yourself smiling in happy recognition. If you are tired of the same old same old when it comes to Christmas music this may be just the CD for you and at the Naxos super budget price it is surely worth a try.
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