WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Christmas At St John's / David Hill, St John's College Choir


Release Date: 11/14/2006 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67576   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  AnonymousTraditionalOtto GoldschmidtHerbert Howells,   ... 
Performer:  Peter MortonPaul ProvostGeorge HumphreysJonathan Knight,   ... 
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  
On sale! $21.98
CD:  $19.99
In Stock



Notes and Editorial Reviews

In the city and university of Cambridge the Advent service with Carols at St. John’s College, given on the weekend of the first Sunday in Advent, and the Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College stand like twin liturgical pillars at the opening and close of the season of Advent. The King’s service has won international renown thanks to the live radio broadcast of the service each year by the BBC. The service at St. John’s is not quite so famous, though in recent years the BBC has broadcast that event also. Listening to it most years on the radio, I have found it to be as essential a part of the preparation for Christmas. Indeed, to be frank, I find the choice of music usually more interesting than the bill of Read more fayre at King’s on Christmas Eve. Now this Hyperion CD gives us a good representation of at least the musical core of that service.

In fact, the selection of music goes beyond Advent Sunday. As Andrew Burn remarks in his excellent notes, "the sequence of words and music takes the listener on a spiritual journey that starts in the darkness of Advent anticipation and continues to Christmas, the Epiphany and even (in Holst’s This have I done for my true love) to Easter with its promise of redemption." One other thing that is worth noting is the number of connections that are made in the programme. Thus we find a carol by Otto Goldschmidt, the founder of The Bach Choir in London, of which David Hill has been conductor for some years. There’s also a link with Winchester Cathedral, where Hill was Master of the Music prior to his appointment at St. John’s. This is Judith Bingham’s The clouded Heaven, which was jointly commissioned for that cathedral and for St John’s and which achieved simultaneous premières at both places on Advent Sunday 1998. There’s a St. John’s connection with Herbert Howells, who was acting organist there during World War II and who became an honorary fellow of the college in 1966. The pieces by John Rutter and Francis Pott were written for St. John’s choir. Finally it’s good to find David Hill’s distinguished predecessor, Christopher Robinson represented by his telling descant for Wesley’s majestic hymn, Lo! He comes with clouds descending.

We are summoned by the tolling of the College bell. Then in the ante-chapel the Advent Prose, Rorate cæli is sung. The choir processes to the quire stalls singing O come, O come, Emmanuel. As I recall, at the Advent Sunday service proper this is a congregational hymn, accompanied by full organ and part of me misses that stirring sound. Instead the choir is unaccompanied until the organ joins them for the last verse.

Then we hear the first of the seven "Great ‘O’" antiphons. During the last week of Advent each of these is sung in turn at Evensong or Vespers before and after the Magnificat. Andrew Burn draws on the researches of Dr. Mary Berry to tell us that in monastic communities there was a definite pecking order according to which the first antiphon would have been sung by the Abbot, the second by the Prior and so on. In the light of this fascinating information, which was new to me, I rather wish that David Hill had allotted a different singer to act as cantor for each antiphon. As it is, tenor Peter Morton intones them all, and very good he is too.

These antiphons occur at intervals throughout the remainder of the programme, coming in between a splendid selection of carols. Otto Goldschmidt’s offering is a lovely, fluent little piece and it’s beautifully sung by Hill’s choir. They also give a winning account of Howells’ A Spotless Rose. This is a wonderful gem of a piece, but isn’t there a danger that it’s becoming excessively ubiquitous? It seems to crop up on every CD of carols these days. It would have been nice if David Hill had chosen another of the composer’s Christmas pieces, perhaps its marvellous companion. Here is the Little Door.

Edward Naylor’s superb and ambitious anthem, Vox dicentes: Clama receives a vivid and dramatic performance. Hill ensures his choir makes the most of the dynamic contrasts within the piece and the radiant ending is delivered splendidly. Judith Bingham’s setting is imaginative – and very difficult. However, though the singing is technically completely secure I did wonder if the choir was not singing too loudly – or recorded too closely. Most of the music is marked mp or mf - there isn’t a marking louder than mf – but it rarely sounds that quiet in this performance. I readily acknowledge that the fearsome demands of tessitura made on the trebles and tenors in particular make quiet singing very difficult but one consequence is that the important organ part is often inaudible. This is a pity since Bingham’s restless, unquiet music is well worth hearing. Having criticised the dynamics, however, I must add that the choir copes excellently with the very difficult, dense chromatic harmonies.

John Rutter inhabits a very different musical world, of course. I’ve long thought that There is a flower is one of the most effective of his carols. The undulating melody is memorable and disarming and the choir does the carol splendidly. They also rise superbly to the different and even greater challenges of Holst’s This have I done for my true love. This is a magnificent and resourceful piece. On this occasion the rhythms are sprung excellently, as they need to be, and the often-complex choral textures are delivered with admirable clarity.

Francis Pott’s Lullay my liking confirms the high opinion I’ve formed of his choral music on other occasions. It’s a fine piece with plenty of variety, featuring an impressive use of different choral textures. The familiar Warlock setting is given in an unfamiliar guise. David Hill has combined the original a cappella choral setting (verses 2 and 4) and the solo-song version (verses 1 and 3). The organ accompanies the first and third verses, which are allocated respectively to trebles and the men. I have to say I think the result is unsatisfying, neither one thing nor the other. For me, the chaste sound of the choral version with its intriguing harmonies is the preferable way to hear this rapt carol and I rather wish Dr. Hill had contented himself with that.

Morten Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium, aptly described by its composer as "a quiet song of profound inner joy", is rapidly acquiring the status of a modern Christmas Classic. I think it’s a sublime piece though I do hope it doesn’t become over-exposed. The present performance is quite superb. The choir sustain the long, slow lines magnificently, something which requires complete concentration. The tuning is magnificent.

At the very end, after David Hill’s own exuberant descant has crowned O come, all ye faithful the choir processes out to the ante chapel whence they came while the tenors and basses sing the Christmas Day antiphon Hodie Christus natus est. Thus the celebration of Christmas at St. John’s is very satisfactorily brought to a conclusion.

This is a very fine disc indeed. Though I’ve expressed one or two reservations the overall impression with which I’m left is one of great satisfaction and pleasure. The programme has been assembled with great imagination and the execution is well nigh flawless. When one adds in excellent and very atmospheric sound, first rate notes and texts and translations, it all adds up to a very distinguished package indeed. I shall be surprised if I encounter a finer CD of Christmas music this year.

-- John Quinn, MusicWeb International
Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Rorate caeli desuper by Anonymous
Performer:  Peter Morton (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Medieval 
Written: Scotland 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 5 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
2. O come, O come Emmanuel by Traditional
Performer:  Paul Provost (Organ)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 15th Century; France 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 3 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Arranger: John Henry Arnold.
Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
3. O Sapientia by Anonymous
Performer:  Peter Morton (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Medieval 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 1 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
4. A Tender Shoot by Otto Goldschmidt
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 2 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
5. Carol-Anthems (3) for Chorus: no 2, A spotless rose by Herbert Howells
Performer:  George Humphreys (Baritone)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1918-1920; England 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 3 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
6. O Adonai by Anonymous
Performer:  Peter Morton (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 1 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
7. Vox dicentis clama by Edward Naylor
Performer:  Jonathan Knight (Tenor), Alexander Robarts (Boy Soprano)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911; England 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 9 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
8. O Radix Jesse by Anonymous
Performer:  Peter Morton (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 1 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
9. The clouded heaven by Judith Bingham
Performer:  Paul Provost (Organ)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 4 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
10. O Clavis David by Anonymous
Performer:  Peter Morton (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 1 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
11. There is a flower by John Rutter
Performer:  Quintin Beer (Boy Soprano)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 4 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
12. This have I done for my true love, Op. 34 no 1/H 128 by Gustav Holst
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; England 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 5 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
13. O Oriens by Anonymous
Performer:  Peter Morton (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 0 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
14. Lullay my liking by Francis Pott
Performer:  Lester Lardenoye (Countertenor), Richard Wilberforce (Countertenor), Quintin Beer (Boy Soprano)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 2004; England 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 6 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
15. O Rex Gentium by Anonymous
Performer:  Peter Morton (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 0 Minutes 58 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
16. Bethlehem Down by Peter Warlock
Performer:  Paul Provost (Organ)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927; England 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 4 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Arranger: David Hill.
Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
17. O magnum mysterium by Morten Lauridsen
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994; USA 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 6 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
18. Adeste fideles "O come, all ye faithful" by John Francis Wade
Performer:  Paul Provost (Organ)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1782; England 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 3 Minutes 54 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: The descant in this selection was written by David Hill.
Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
19. Hodie Christus natus est by Anonymous
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Medieval 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 1 Minutes 7 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
20. Bell Toll by Anonymous
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 0 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
21. Lo! He comes, with clouds descending by Martin Madan
Performer:  Paul Provost (Organ)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1769; England 
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 4 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: The descant in this selection was written by Christopher Robinson.
Arranger: Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 
22. O Emmanuel by Anonymous
Performer:  Peter Morton (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Venue:  Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge 
Length: 1 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: Chapel, St. John's College, Cambridge (01/13/2006 - 01/15/2006) 

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title
Review This Title Share on Facebook