Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity. Various/Cambridge Singers/Rutter (Collegium) – INKPOT

Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity

Gerald Finley baritone
Ruth Holton soprano
Nicholas Sears baritone
The Cambridge Singers
The City of London Sinfonia

conducted by John Rutter

Recorded in 1988. Full libretto included.

[63:35] full-price

by Torleif Sorenson
This is what Christmas music really is: Beautifully worshipful compositions reflecting upon the birth of Christ, and nothing less. And because some of John Rutter’s own music is here, it also serves as a unique, tangible profession of his faith. If you don’t have any of John Rutter’s other CDs, buy this one and let it be your springboard to purchasing his other recordings.

The highly-respected John Rutter (b. 1945, London) is primarily a composer and conductor, known for writing choral music on both small and grand scales. In the mid-1970’s he was Director of Music at Clare College, where he had been a student and whose choir he directed in broadcasts and recordings. He gave up his post there to compose his own music and to form the Cambridge Singers as a professional chamber choir primarily dedicated to recording. Likewise, he started Collegium Records to present those recordings. This one, like his others, contains the text, composition and arrangement credits for and excellent historical notes about each track.

The Cambridge Singers’ performance here is somewhere between flawless and outstanding, faithfully captured by engineer Campbell Hughes and producer Jillian White. The reduced number of musicians here is entirely appropriate; there is no loud fanfare or bombast, and therein lies one of the endearing qualities of this disc, because Rutter programmed so thoughtfully and carefully. Fifteen a capella pieces are punctuated by seven with orchestral accompaniment, more than ably provided here by Rutter’s frequent collaborators, the City of London Sinfonia.

Among the a capella highlights on this disc are the two opening tracks, beginning with the familiar German carol in dulci jubilo, arranged here by R.L. Pearsall. The 15th century Adam lay ybounden has been set to music several times; John Rutter chose to include the one by legendary English choirmaster and organist Boris Ord. The late Herbert Howells’ arrangement of A spotless rose is a fine example of the wonderful British flavor on this disc, echoed by the two Charles Wood arrangements, Once as I remember and A virgin most pure. There is also a particularly beautiful J.S. Bach arrangement of Samuel Scheidt’s carol O little one sweet. Rutter’s setting of There is a flower features soprano soloist Ruth Holton, who delivers a very enjoyable balance between the boy-chorister characteristic and her own feminine voice.

There are four particularly beautiful collaborations between choir and strings here: Dr. Harold Darke’s In the bleak mid-winter has remained very popular in Great Britain over the last few decades in part because of the gentle arrangement and because Christina Rossetti’s text considers Christ’s birth with an almost child-like simplicity. Sir Richard R. Terry’s lovely and dignified Myn lyking is a Tudor-flavored arrangement of a 15th century text. The segue from the violins to the women choristers entering the first verse evidences Terry’s thoughtful string scoring, duplicated later by the celli and the men. John Rutter adapted a melody from Thoinot Arbeau’s late 16th century Orchsographie and wrote lyrics and a new score, nicely resulting in this disc’s title track.

Especially deserving of your attention is Patrick Hadley’s quietly sparkling I sing of a maiden; Hadley’s brilliant scoring and orchestration remind of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, flowing beautifully and seamlessly between phrases. Given a superlative performance here by the Singers and Sinfonia, this may be the best track on the disc.

John RutterTwo other notable Rutter (right) works are here too, reminiscent of both a “contemporary” style and that which sounds at least a hundred years older – testimony to Rutter’s compositional abilities. Among the former is his 1984 Candlelight Carol, and representing the latter is the final track on the CD, his 1963 Nativity carol, both accompanied by the City of London Sinfonia. As with the Patrick Hadley, Nativity carol epitomizes the celebration of Christmas: quiet, worshipful and eloquently simple reflection upon the birth of the Christ child, beautifully enough to bring tears to your eyes.

My recommendation here is simple: Buy this CD.

TORLEIF SORENSON plays cello and double bass, especially when Russian, Scandinavian or English music is involved. But on electric six-string bass he enjoys playing low, loud, funky bass solos that shake the floors, set off automobile security alarms and cause all the neighborhood dogs to run away.
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824: 19.12.2000 Torleif Sorenson

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In dulci Jubilo
14th century German carol
transl./arr. R.L. Pearsall (1795-1856)

Adam lay ybounden
text, 15th century
Boris Ord (1897-1961)

Christmas Night
Thoinot Arbeau (16th cent)
text and arr, John Rutter (1945-)

Once, as I remember
text, G.R. Woodward (1848-1934)
music, Italian 17th cent
arr. Charles Wood (1866-1926)

A spotless Rose
text, 14th century
music, Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

In the bleak mid-winter
text, Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)
music, Dr. Harold Darke (1888-1976)

There is a flower
text, John Audelay (15th cent)
music, John Rutter (1945-)

The cherry tree carol
English traditional carol
arr. Sir David Willcocks

I wonder as I wander
Appalachian carol
coll. John Jacob Niles
arr. John Rutter (1945-)

Candlelight Carol
John Rutter (1945-)

O Tannenbaum
text, Ernst Anschutz (1824)
German traditional melody
arr. John Rutter (1945-)

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
English traditional carol
arr. Sir David Willcocks

A virgin most pure
English traditional carol
arr. Charles Wood (1866-1926)

I sing of a maiden
text, 15th century
music, Patrick Hadley (1899-1973)

Lute-book lullaby
William Ballet (17th cent)
arr. Geoffrey Shaw

The three kings
Peter Cornelius (1824-1874)
arr. Ivor Atkins (1869-1953)

Myn lyking
text, 15th century
music, Sir R.R. Terry (1865-1938)

O little one sweet
Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654)
arr. J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

All my heart this night rejoices
text, Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)
transl, Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)
music, Johann Georg Ebeling (1637-1676)

I saw a maiden text
15th century
Basque Noël
arr. Edgar Pettman (1865-1943)

Away in a manger
text, published 1865
music, W.I. Kirkpatrick (1832-1921)
arr. John Rutter (1945-)

John Rutter (1945-)

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