Almost every year a first rate choir records a traditional program of sacred Christmas music--and this year it looks as if it's the Choir of Trinity Church, Wall Street's turn. The ensemble and its excellent organist certainly uphold the standard set years ago by their British counterparts, particularly those at the various Cambridge University colleges--King's, Trinity, and St. John's, to name the more notable. And even though this New York City church can't boast as many centuries' existence as those revered English institutions, there is something especially charming about the fact that it hosted the New World premieres of both Messiah and the hymn Silent Night, the latter performed by a Tyrolean ensemble on Christmas Eve, 1827. For those familiar with the famed King's College Choir carol services, the programming here will ring a few bells, from the opening, processional-style Once in Royal David's City to the closing Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. In between are one after another of the now-standard Christmas carol, hymn, and anthem selections in their best-known settings--Peter Cornelius' "The Three Kings", Patrick Hadley's "I sing of a maiden", David Willcocks' arrangement of "Of the Father's heart begotten", Philip Ledger's arrangement of the "Sussex Carol", William Mathias' "A babe is born", Gustav Holst's "Lullay, my liking", the English hymnal harmonization of "O come, all ye faithful", the Vaughan Williams/Forest Green version of "O little town of Bethlehem", and a lovely Ledger a cappella setting of "Silent night".
The choir sings with warmth, precision, purity of articulation (you can hear every word), and great care in balance and blend. There is one thing however in which the choir failed: as much as they tried (according to director Owen Burdick) to "not sound British", they do, but in the very best way possible--beauty of tone, clarity of diction, and fully committed, sincere singing. Yes, Americans can do these things too. And as for this umpteenth program of already well-represented pieces, the fact is, those who love Christmas and singing (and how can these not go hand in hand?) never tire of this music, these lovely, characterful, joyous, hopeful tunes--and this recording and its fine performances capture them all as well as any choir ever has. The sound gives a realistic impression of the church's acoustic space while giving ideal clarity and depth to the singing. [10/17/2001]
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com