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On Christmas Night / Nethsingha, Choir of St. John's

Rutter / Burton / Mathias / Challenger
Release Date: 10/25/2011 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 5096   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John RutterTraditionalJames BurtonWilliam Mathias,   ... 
Performer:  John ChallengerJulius FooJulian GregoryFreddie James,   ... 
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This excellent and most enjoyable disc will be a high quality Christmas present for a musical friend - or to give to yourself!

It’s four years now since Andrew Nethsingha moved from Gloucester Cathedral, where he had been a distinguished Director of Music, to St. John’s College, where as part of his training he had once been the Organ Scholar, under George Guest. Having established himself securely with the college’s choir he’s begun recording with them for Chandos and the partnership has already produced some impressive results. These include a very fine Howells collection, an equally good mixed recital of church music and a disc of music by Lassus, which I haven’t heard but which impressed my colleague, Gavin Dixon.
Read more Their latest offering is of music for Advent and Christmas; in every respect it maintains the high standards set by their previous releases.
 
Before commenting on the music, can I commend Chandos for the quality of the booklet? This label is always strong on documentation but there must be a temptation for record companies to economise a little on such releases - “it’s only carols”. In fact, Chandos provide all the texts and, best of all, a really useful and thorough essay by Martin Ennis, which includes a separate and interesting paragraph on every one of the twenty-four items on the programme. The essay, in fact, is a model of its kind and the best I can recall seeing for a release of seasonal music.
 
The programme has been very carefully chosen and includes a welcome mix of the familiar, the unfamiliar and the familiar in slightly less-than-familiar guise. Into this latter category would come items such as the exuberant and effective arrangement by Philip Marshall, the former organist of Lincoln Cathedral, of I saw three ships. The version of Ding! dong! merrily on high would also fall into the exuberant, indeed flamboyant, category. It was made by the Music Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and requires two organists. The organ features strongly - and most effectively - in Stephen Jackson’s arrangement of Noël nouvelet. Indeed, the organ writing is a key element in giving the setting its pronounced French flavour. It’s good to see Andrew Nethsingha give a bow to one of his predecessors at St. John’s, Christopher Robinson. Instead of the usual - and excellent - Willcocks descant to Hark! the herald angels sing we hear Robinson’s descant and a jolly good one it is!
 
Moving to the unfamiliar elements in the programme we find Christopher Robinson there too. I’d not heard before his setting of Make we joy - a text more famously set by Walton. I like this Robinson setting very much indeed; it’s buoyant and strongly rhythmic. Also new to me was Michael Finnissy’s Telling. Written in 2008, this is a setting for unaccompanied choir of an anonymous sixteenth century text. Martin Ennis draws attention, rightly, to the “refined harmonic sensibility” of the piece. I think it’s a beautiful composition and, in an intelligent piece of programme ordering, we find that Kenneth Leighton’s fine Coventry Carol, which comes next in the running order, complements the Finnissy nicely. Mention should also be made of Matthew Martin’s Adam lay ybounden. This is very different from some other settings - one thinks of Boris Ord’s celebrated setting, for starters. Martin’s piece is slow and reflective and it’s good to have another slant on this well-known text. I also liked the item by James Burton, perhaps best known as Director of the Oxford Schola Cantorum. His Balulalow eschews trebles - the altos take the top line - giving an interesting, darker texture. Some of the harmonies are quite close and I think it’s a lovely piece.
 
And so to the familiar seasonal items. It’s right to include them to give the programme balance. Nethsingha and his singers pay these pieces - and their listeners - the important compliment of taking as much care over them as they have done over the less conventional fare. Harold Darke’s classic piece is given a lovely performance and lovely too is the choir’s account of Philip Ledger’s sympathetic arrangement of Silent Night - good planning, too, to place this immediately after his equally good arrangement of the Sussex Carol. Ledger’s predecessor at King’s College, Sir David Willcocks, is represented by his justly popular Tomorrow shall be my dancing day. O little town of Bethlehem, mainstay of innumerable carol services, makes an equally welcome appearance. It wouldn’t be a Christmas programme without John Rutter. When you hear his lovely What sweeter music, which, as Martin Ennis justly observes, contains “one of his most winning melodies”, you realise just why for so many people Rutter has become synonymous with Christmas music. The present performance is first class, with every little detail of Rutter’s music nicely observed.
 
The singing on this disc is very fine indeed. Solos are well taken and the choir as a group blends extremely well and sings with excellent tone and great clarity. Several of the pieces are accompanied by organ and the college’s Senior Organ Scholar, John Challenger, does a marvellous job. I relished especially his splendid contributions - very different from each other in character - to the Jackson and Mathias pieces.
 
It only remains to say that the Chandos sound is up to the label’s usual exalted standard - I listened to this hybrid SACD as a conventional CD. This most enjoyable disc will be a high quality Christmas present for a musical friend - or to give to yourself!  

-- John Quinn, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
What Sweeter Music by John Rutter
Performer:  John Challenger (Organ)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987; England 
2.
Noël nouvelet by Traditional
Performer:  Julius Foo (Treble)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Written: France 
3.
Balulalow by James Burton
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
4.
A babe is born, Op. 55 by William Mathias
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971; Wales, UK 
5.
In the bleak mid-winter by Harold Edwin Darke
Performer:  Julian Gregory (Tenor)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911; England 
6.
Ding Dong! Merrily on high by Traditional
Performer:  Freddie James (Organ), John Challenger (Organ)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 16th Century; France 
Notes: This arrangement requires two organists.  
7.
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree by Elisabeth Poston
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1967; England 
8.
I saw three ships by Traditional
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Written: England 
9.
Carols (5): no 2, Out of your sleep by Richard Rodney Bennett
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1967; England 
10.
Benedicamus Domino by Peter Warlock
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1918; England 
11.
There is no rose, Op. 14 by John Joubert
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1954; England 
12.
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day by Traditional
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 16th Century; England 
13.
Adam lay ybounden by Matthew Martin
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
14.
Ríu, ríu, chíu "El lobo rabioso" by Mateo Flecha
Performer:  Huw Leslie (Baritone), Henry Neill (Baritone), Basil Macdonald (Bass),
Geoffrey Clapham (Bass)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Medieval 
Written: Spain 
15.
O little town of Bethlehem by Lewis H. Redner
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; USA 
16.
Es ist ein' Ros' entsprungen by Traditional
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
17.
Make we joy by Christopher Robinson
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
18.
Festgesang "Hark! The herald angels sing" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
19.
The Lamb "Little Lamb, who made thee?" by John Tavener
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1982; England 
20.
Telling by Michael Finnissy
Performer:  Peter Hicks (Treble)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
21.
Coventry Carol by Kenneth Leighton
Performer:  Julius Foo (Treble)
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
22.
On Christmas Night "Sussex Carol" by Traditional
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Written: England 
23.
Silent Night by Franz Xaver Gruber
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1818; Austria 
24.
Adeste fideles "O come, all ye faithful" by John Francis Wade
Conductor:  Andrew Nethsingha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1782; England 

Sound Samples

What Sweeter Music: What sweeter music
Noel nouvelet (arr. S. Jackson)
Balulalow
A Babe is Born, Op. 53
In the Bleak Mid-Winter
Ding Dong! Merrily on High (arr. M. Wilberg)
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In) (arr. P. Marshall)
Out of your sleep: Out of your Sleep
Benedicamus Domino
There is no Rose, Op. 14
Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day (arr. D. Willcocks)
Adam Lay Ybounden
Villancicos: Riu Chiu
O Little Town of Bethlehem (R. Vaughan Williams and T. Armstrong)
Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen (arr. M. Praetorius and C. Cashmore)
Make We Joy
Hark! the herald angels sing (arr. C. Robinson)
The Lamb
Telling
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child, Op. 25, No. 2, "Coventry Carol"
On Christmas Night (arr. P. Ledger)
Silent Night (Stille Nacht) (arr. P. Ledger): Silent Night (arr. P. Ledger)
O Come, All Ye Faithful (arr. David Willcocks): O Come, All Ye Faithful (arr. D. Willcocks)

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