INKPOT#87 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: “Christmas Day in the Morning”. “Christmas Star”. Cambridge Singers & Orchestra/Rutter (Collegium)
The Cambridge Singers & Orchestra conducted by John Rutter
COLLEGIUM COLCD 121 (Christmas Day) and CSCD 503 (Christmas Star)
by Ng Yeuk Fan
Christmas has been inextricably linked with Carols since time immemorial. “Christmas Day’ celebrates those of John Rutter and four other English composers – Ralph Vaghan Williams, Peter Warlock, David Wilcocks and John Tavener. Many more are Rutter arrangements of traditional carols such as Wexford Carol, Go Tell it on the Mountain and Deck the Hall.
Left: Detail from “The Nativity”
There is an air of commercialization in some of Rutter’s arrangements, not helped by the fact that those excessive bells in the background can remind me of the same ones I hear blaring through PA systems in shopping malls. Few in Singapore are particular about the music they play. But I guess one cannot run away from that ‘sales pitch’ even in such a production. But the real gem in this disc is the contribution , by Vaughan Williams’ most moving “Fantasia on Chrismas Carol” superbly sung by Stephen Varcoe. The Cambridge Singers are at their usual superb form, switching between styles to suit the music purposefully. Given a choice, I would rather have less jingle bells and a more serious look into the soul of christmas – but that I presume is not on this agenda and listeners will be happy to know that this disc would be a fantastic addition to a traditional family christmas party, there is something for everybody. Children will be pleased with cute little offerings such as Donkey Carol and stuffy people like myself can be left to explore the dark depths of Tavener’s The Lamb.
“Christmas Star” – This CD is a collection of some of the best loved carols the world over, in fact I have sung almost ALL of them. You choristers out there will recognise them instantly for John Rutter’s arrangement of many of these carols are extremely successful and I remember there was once all choirs I knew did some Rutter arrangements for Christmas. Some of you will remember Rutter’s difficult soprano part in Franz Gruber’s Silent Night. It is extremely difficult to keep the whole ‘alleluia’ melody in counterpoint gently rocking without sounding harsh and I am impressed by the smooth delivery of the entire Cambride Singers. I am also fascinated by the solo voice in I wonder as I wander and this Appalachian carol has a lilting appeal that will instantly captivate. The Cambride Singers is altogether a lot more convincing to me in this field of favourites and their solid sound impresses me.
Further the selection of pieces in Christmas Star is significantly more well tabled and consistent and that persuades me significantly to recommend this disc whole heartedly to the choral music lover. Bach fans out there wondering whether dear Sebastian wrote anything ‘simple’ for them to sing for Christmas will be happy to know that there is an acappella arrangement of an old German melody “O Little one Sweet which has been included in this excellent production. Rise up shepherd, and follow is another moving carol with yet another unnamed, but excellent soloist on the tenor solo. The selection on this disc gradually builds up and finished with a grand treatment of O come all ye faithful, an altogether fitting finish which as it were, sort of heralds the Christmas!!
Does Christmas mean anything special to you? We all know that this is a traditional festival of the Christian faith. However, where I live – cosmopolitan Singapore, a small island of only 645 sq km, with more than 6 other religious faiths living in harmony, Christmas takes on a ‘different’ outfit. Though the original message of Christmas is still very much alive in the Christian community, the glad tidings of the holidays have been merrily shared by all its peoples. To all readers out there, whereever you may be, Merry Christmas to you!
Ng Yeuk Fan rubs salt on the pudding, roasts the cranberries and sauces the turkey…
606: 17.11.1999 Ng Yeuk Fan