Reviewed by Matthew Cordle
This new CD is released in conjunction with the Catholic newspaper The Tablet and consists of the top 10 carols as voted by their readers from around the world, along with some more unusual ones and some which have not previously been commercially recorded. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that "O Holy Night", one of my favourite carols, was by a long way voted the number one carol. Many of the other traditional 19th century carols you would expect make an appearance, eg, "In The Bleak Midwinter", "Once In Royal David's City", "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night". Alongside these are some less familiar carols from the 16th and 17th centuries like a German carol from Bach's era called 'O little One Sweet" and "At The Nativity", an Alsatian cradle song from 1697. There is even one carol from the sixth century called "Christ, Redeemer Of All". Pretty fascinating stuff. To balance the ancient material there is a selection of more modern carols like the beautiful "A Spotless Rose" by Herbert Howells (which took me right back to my chorister days when I could sing it like that!) and a modern carol from 2003, "Peaceful Was The Night", a setting of words from John Milton's On The Morning Of Christ's Nativity. James Jarvis, the conductor, has obviously put a lot of thought into musical interpretations of these carols and the intonation of the choir is precise and controlled, yet emotive, whether singing quiet, close harmony (for instance, the ending of "O Spotless Rose" is magical) or belting out triumphantly. The only minor thing I would mention is that the soloist on "In The Bleak Midwinter" does not sound particularly confident and some of her notes wobble a bit. Recorded in a church in Holborn, the building's natural reverb lifts the sound of the choir perfectly. All in all, a very worthwhile carol collection.
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