Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
It can be a challenge to avoid clichés at Christmas - but like the corny jokes in a cracker there is no escaping them. This most enjoyable collection from Ely Cathedral is like the proverbial selection box with something for everyone no matter what their tastes. For me conductor Sarah MacDonald has got the balance between familiar favourites and new discoveries just about right, taking us from Mark Armstrong's arrangement of the traditional Welsh tune for the traditional English words "Deck The Hall" through to the first recording of a new composition by Ben Parry (born 1965), "Three Angels", which is a setting of a poem by Garth Bardsley (born 1965). If there is a theme, beyond the obvious celebration of the birth of the Saviour, I would say this collection tends to marry ancient texts to modern settings. The centerpiece or, if you prefer, the star at the top of the tree, is "Sir Christèmas". The text is anonymous and is from the 15th century and the music by Bernard Trafford (born 1956) is a real earworm that won the BBC Radio 3 Breakfast programme Carol Competition for 2017. Other pieces that I particularly enjoyed are "O holy night", here arranged by Sarah MacDonald, the jazzy "Follow That Star" by Peter Gritton (born 1963), and another first recording in "St Godric's Hymn", the Godric being the one from Finchdale who lived, so we are told, from 1065 to 1170, with music from Gary Higginson (born 1952). Throughout the 23 songs there is nothing that is not worth hearing. The singing comes from The Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral along with the (mainly) male Lay Clerks and sixth form choral scholars. The vocal blend is good throughout and there are some excellent soloists to be appreciated along with some occasional organ accompaniment from Aaron Shilson. Even if you have an extensive collection of Christmas music there is enough new material that is worth hearing to make this a safe recommendation for listeners and indeed for choir leaders who may be looking for something different for a future performance.
The opinions expressed in this article are
not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed
views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may
not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a
Interested in reviewing music? Find out