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“O Magnum Mysterium”
Jacob Handl: "Resonet In Laudibus"
William J. Kirkpatrick (arr. G. Mendham): "Away In A Manger"
Traditional (arr. D. Wilcocks): "Sussex Carol"
Johann Sebastian Bach [1]: ”Wachet Auf”, BWV 645 – “Gelobet Seist Du, Jesu Christ”, BWV 604 – “Der Tag, Der Ist So Freudenreich”, BWV 605 – “In Dulci Jubilo”, BWV 608 – “Kommst Du Nun, Jesu, Vom Himmel”, BWV 650
Francis Poulenc: ”O Magnum Mysterium”
Traditional: "Coventry Carol" (original 1591 version)
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck: "Hodie Christus Natus Est"
Old German Tune (arr. R. Pearsall): ”In Dulci Jubilo”
Franz Gruber (arr. C. Walker): ”Silent Night”
Harold Darke: ”In the Bleake Midwinter”
Peter Warlock: ”Bethlehem Down”
Cölner Gesangbuch (1623)(arr. D. Wulstan): ”Echo Carol”
Louis-Claude Daquin: ”Noël Suisse” [1]

The Choir of the Cathedral Church of SS Peter and Paul, John Gibbons [1] (organ solo), Christopher Walker, John Gibbons (director)
Recording: Clifton Cathedral, Bristol, England (October 23-24, 1987) – 52’45
Hoxa Sound 0710-27 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English

The Choir of the Cathedral Church of SS Peter & Paul, Clifton, under the direction of Christopher Walker and John Gibbons, is releasing an attractive album of Christmas carols and other seasonal music this month under the Hoxa Sound label. Clifton is a region of Bristol, located in southwestern England, and the church, constructed in 1973, has an edgy architectural profile that would have been called modern in its time. The building has excellent acoustics, however, as well as an impressive three-manual Rieger organ, and an enthusiastic team of volunteer choristers.

“O Magnum Mysterium”, the title of this collection of 17 pieces, somewhat misled me, as I imagined it referred to the touching hymn of the same name by the Spanish Counter-Reformation composer, Tomás Luis de Victoria. Instead, the album offers a different version by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). The Cathedral Choir sings this anthem sweetly, gently emphasizing in soft voice the humility of the animals who shared their stable with the Christ Child.

Throughout the album, men’s and children’s voices blend to recreate the feel of an Old English Christmas but with a clear, contemporary approach. Co-director, John Gibbons, shines in several organ solos in an accessible program which includes some Bach in addition to holiday favorites such as the “Coventry Carol” and “Silent Night.” While Gibbons’ skillful playing cannot be faulted, some of the solo organ pieces, such as “Der Tag”, sounded more appropriate for the Collection portion of the liturgy, rather than to be listened to at home.

An unnamed boy soprano sang with ringing tones in the opening of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, and the album concluded with a thoughtful performance of the “Echo Carol” and ”Noël Suisse”, the marching rhythms of which had the effect of making me want to cross myself, and say “Also with you”, and leave the chapel.

This is a fine, if not a stand-out, album of Christmas songs by performers who sing and play with sincere conviction and admirable musicianship. Not a bad combination in the world we are living in today.

Linda Holt




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