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The Wonder of Christmas / Elora Festival Singers

Britten / Rutter / Tavener
Release Date: 11/11/2014 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8573421   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Henry John GauntlettTraditionalBenjamin BrittenBenjamin Russell Hanby,   ... 
Performer:  Michael Bloss
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Elora Festival Singers
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 59 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews


Along a bend in the Grand River lies Elora, billed as “Ontario’s most beautiful village…”–and if you’ve ever visited there, you wouldn’t disagree with the description. And if you happened to be in the neighborhood and were able to attend one of the Elora Festival Singers’ concerts, you’d also agree that this 24-voice choir, led by founder/director Noel Edison, is not only one of Canada’s, but one of the world’s finest professional choral ensembles. I’ve previously reviewed–and highly recommended–a half dozen of this group’s Naxos recordings, but this one seems to be its first Christmas disc for the label since the late 1990s–and it’s a first rate effort that joins traditional carols and arrangements
Read more to lesser-known works both old and new.

It almost doesn’t matter what the repertoire is: these singers embrace and elevate everything they sing–and their performances are imbued with a vivaciousness and joy that’s absolutely infectious. But Edison always chooses well, with a keen programmatic sense. The opening Once in royal David’s city (with Willcocks’ descant) follows a long tradition associated with the famous service of Nine Lessons and Carols, but from there the choice is wide-open–and happily includes many newer arrangements that bring wonderful new sounds, colors, harmonies, and sometimes even melodies and rhythms to old favorites by Willcocks, Gardner, Rutter, and others: Bob Chilcott’s My Dancing Day and Away in a Manger (with a lovely solo by Sheila Dietrich); Paul Halley’s What Child Is This? and The First Nowell; The holly and the ivy by Stuart Thompson (a positively jolly, rollicking waltz complete with the nattiest skating-rink-style organ you’ll ever hear!); Gerald Brown’s alternately eerie and etherial Gabriel’s Message; and Howard Skempton’s quick and clever Adam lay y-bounden, which has justifiably become a repertoire favorite over the last few years.

There are many more selections–18 in all–including Britten’s A Boy Was Born (the first movement/theme), Rutter’s There is a Flower, and Jan Sandström’s floating, chord-clustery Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (another piece that’s become very popular on recordings lately). Together they make an ideal Christmas program, but more than that, choral fans will appreciate the consummate choral artistry on display here. Rarely do we hear an ensemble so comfortable and seasoned as a group, so assured in technique, and so accomplished in a given set of repertoire. You don’t get perfectly executed yet unaffected phrasing like this nor such sectional vocal unity (listen to the beginning of Gabriel’s message–or My Dancing Day) from a mere collection of voices, no matter how good or capable the singers.

You may be just plain lucky to have such a phenomenal group of sopranos, but this kind of ensemble comes from years of refinement, from the devoted collaboration of compatible voices and personalities, and from exceptional direction. You can hear it in every note, chord, phrase (and soaring descant) throughout these performances–and let’s not forget the indispensable contribution of organist Michael Bloss, himself a frequent performing partner with Edison and the Elora Festival Singers. And when you hear all these forces come together in Paul Halley’s rousing, concluding The First Nowell, you’ll definitely be ready to repeat the whole performance–and possibly to begin making plans for your own trip to Elora.

-- David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Once in Royal David's City by Henry John Gauntlett
Performer:  Michael Bloss (Organ)
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Elora Festival Singers
Period: Romantic 
Written: 19th Century; England 
Length: 3 Minutes 51 Secs. 
2.
Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day (English) by Traditional
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1833; England 
Length: 1 Minutes 51 Secs. 
3.
What child is this? by Traditional
Performer:  Michael Bloss (Organ)
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 16th Century; England 
Length: 3 Minutes 25 Secs. 
4.
A Boy was Born, Op. 3 by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933/1955; England 
Length: 2 Minutes 10 Secs. 
5.
The Holly and the Ivy by Traditional
Performer:  Michael Bloss (Organ)
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Written: England 
Length: 3 Minutes 18 Secs. 
6.
Who Is He in Yonder Stall, carol for chorus by Benjamin Russell Hanby
Performer:  Michael Bloss (Organ)
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1866 
Length: 3 Minutes 54 Secs. 
7.
Nesciens mater virgo virum by Jean Mouton
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: Renaissance 
Written: France 
Length: 3 Minutes 55 Secs. 
8.
Away in a manger (Tune: Cradle Song) (New English Hymnal 22) by William James Kirkpatrick
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1885; United States of Ame 
Length: 2 Minutes 51 Secs. 
9.
Ding Dong! Merrily on high by Traditional
Performer:  Michael Bloss (Organ)
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 16th Century; France 
Length: 2 Minutes 4 Secs. 
10.
Adam lay y-bounden, advent carol for chorus by Howard Skempton
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Written: 1999 
Length: 1 Minutes 20 Secs. 
11.
Ecce Concipies, for chorus by Mark Sirett
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: Contemporary 
Length: 3 Minutes 10 Secs. 
12.
Rocking, carol for chorus by John Tavener
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2007 
Length: 1 Minutes 53 Secs. 
13.
Gabriel's Message (Basque) by Traditional
Performer:  Michael Bloss (Organ)
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: Medieval 
Written: circa 1582; Spain 
Length: 3 Minutes 6 Secs. 
14.
I wonder as I wander by John Jacob Niles
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Length: 4 Minutes 25 Secs. 
15.
There is a flower by John Rutter
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Length: 4 Minutes 22 Secs. 
16.
Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming, carol by Traditional
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Length: 3 Minutes 30 Secs. 
17.
The first nowell by Traditional
Performer:  Michael Bloss (Organ)
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Written: England 
Length: 5 Minutes 29 Secs. 
18.
Cantique de Noël, for voice & orchestra ("Minuit, Chrétiens," "O Holy Night") by Adolphe Adam
Performer:  Michael Bloss (Organ)
Conductor:  Noel Edison
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; France 
Length: 4 Minutes 34 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  7 Customer Reviews )
 Wonder of Xmas February 24, 2016 By Sylvia Romero (San Jose, CA) See All My Reviews "Wonderful. "In King David's City" is one of my favorites and one that is not often included in Xmas CD's. I am glad that you did not include "Little Drummer Boy." The CD is one that I can play year around. The chorus is great." Report Abuse
 Wonderful Christmas CD January 9, 2016 By David B. (Hopkinton, MA) See All My Reviews "This is wonderful music excellently performed. It has quickly become one of my favorite Christmas CDs." Report Abuse
 Well-performed, but... January 8, 2016 By Wayne Hanway (McAlester, OK) See All My Reviews "This Christmas CD is very well-performed and recorded. I especially like the treatment of The Holly and the Ivy, to which the organ adds something very special. That said, I am withholding a fifth star because of the program and the arrangements. The program has too many unfamiliar pieces. The best arrangements of choral Christmas music create a temptation to sing along, while these are more designed to showcase English cathedral-style singing." Report Abuse
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