Notes and Editorial Reviews
Jewels indeed. And the singing ain't bad either. This is another in a very satisfying group of recent Christmas choral discs that strive to offer some terrific, rarely recorded "gems" along with a welcome mix of familiar--but mostly not too familiar--pieces. Beginning with Bach's "Break forth, O beauteous heav'nly light" from the Christmas Oratorio, the program proceeds with hardly a breath to Richard Dirksen's earth-awakening setting of William Austin's poem Chanticleer (why isn't this piece performed more?) and goes on to blend more Bach (Wachet auf) with Howells (A Spotless Rose), Reger (Maria Wiegenlied), more Bach (Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern), Mendelssohn (There shall a star come out of Jacob), and a regular carol arrangement or two--Here We Come a-Wassailing (Rutter), Deck the Hall ( a jazzy 7/8 version by James McKelvy). Well, perhaps Elizabeth Poston's Jesus Christ the Apple Tree is getting a little overworked, but it's beautifully sung and this a cappella setting fits nicely into the overall program, which also includes organ and orchestra. Soprano Janice Chandler sings nice solo versions of He's got the whole world in His hands and Sweet little Jesus boy (with piano accompaniment), and there's a cute little twist on Away in a Manger, written by Edmund Walters--it begins with a countermelody, sung by the women, that's nothing like the original tune, which we don't hear until the end, hummed by the men's voices.
Organist J. Reilly Lewis treats us to a brilliant performance of Bach's chorale prelude BWV 615 (In Dir ist Freude), and another Bach piece, O Jesulein süss (harmonized by Martin Shaw) gets a tender and lovely a cappella rendition by the choir. This is a very well-disciplined ensemble--and it has to be in order for this many voices (around 100) to sing with such precision and clarity. (The liner notes list only sopranos and altos--I swear there are lots of men singing too!) The sound, optimally recorded in an ideal church setting, is excellent. [11/3/2000]
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com