Monday, 4 January 2016

A York Yuletide: The Choir of York Minster

Few need reminding of York Minster’s great musical tradition. From the days of James Nares, the Camidge dynasty and by way of Edward Bairstow, Francis Jackson and Philip Moore, the liturgical and concert music has been in excellent hands. The York Minster Choir provide the daily cycle of worship as well as the young choristers receiving an excellent education at the Minster School. Over the years the choir has made a number of recordings, most recently St Peter’s Day at York Minster - a musical celebration of the patronal festival under the auspices of the present director, Robert Sharpe.  A York Yuletide is a worthy addition to their catalogue.
For the purposes of this review, the title ‘Yuletide’ can be seen interchangeable with ‘Christmas’, although there are subtle shades of meaning.

Highlights (for me) on this imaginative programme include Bob Chilcott’s arrangement of ‘In Dulce Jubilo’, David Hill’s beautiful reworking of ‘Silent Night’, and Andrew Carter’s setting his own words ‘Lullaby my Jesus’ to part of Warlock’s ‘Capriol’ Suite. The liner notes do not mention that this latter piece uses the ‘Pieds-en-l'ar’, movement.
The CD opens with a delightful arrangement of ‘Ding! dong! merrily on high’ by Mack Wilberg. ‘Jingle Bells’ as arranged by Richard Shepard begins with a serious and ‘expansive’ organ introduction, before sleigh bells introduce a ‘spirited, wayward and syncopated’ version of the well-known song.

No CD of ‘Yuletide Music’ can be complete without a carol by John Rutter. On this disc there are two – the ‘Nativity Carol’ which was composed in 1963 and represents one of the composer’s early pieces. ‘What Sweeter Music’ with words by Robert Herrick, was written for the Festival of Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge during 1987. 
Herbert Howells’ well-loved Three Carol Anthems are given a fine and sensitive performance. The largely chordal ‘Here is the Little Door’ contrasts with wonderfully accompanied baritone solo (Sam Hucklebridge) of ‘A Spotless Rose’. ‘Sing Lullaby,’ to words by the Gloucestershire poet F.W. Harvey, creates all the magic of the wise men visiting the crib.  The same composer’s ‘Long, long ago’ is more adventurous, but equally evocative, in its style.  William Walton is not usually recalled for his liturgical music, however a clutch of anthems and carols are regularly heard. ‘All this time’ is a lively little motet based on an anonymous 16th century text.
Possibly less well-known, but equally fine carols include music by Stephen Jackson, Howard Skempton, Matthew Martin, Grayston Ives and Francis Pott which add variety and interest to the programme. The late David Willcocks is represented by his popular ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’ featuring descants and strong syncopation.

The major work on this CD is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols. This has long been one of my favourite seasonal works. Matt Dowdy provides a thoughtful baritone solo, with the choir and organ providing the magical accompaniment. This music epitomises the mood of an ‘old English Yuletide.’

The Choir of York Minster under their Director of Music Robert Sharpe give a good account of these delightful ‘Yuletide’ songs, hymns and carols. David Pipe, the Assistant Director of Music provides the essential organ accompaniment to a number of these pieces.
An attractive picture on the CD insert shows York Minster on a snowy day taken from inside the Dean’s Park. The liner notes by George Haynes are helpful, but why could the dates of the composers and arrangers not have been provided? I know that they can be ‘Googled’, but not everyone is online when they are listening to Christmas carols. The texts to all the pieces have been included. 
This is an attractive and enjoyable selection of Christmas music from a wide range of composers. There are many favourites here as well as a good sprinkling of lesser-known arrangements. 

Track Listing:-
16th Century French, arr. Mack WILBERG (b.1955)
Ding! dong! merrily on high
John RUTTER (b.1945)
Nativity Carol
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Three Carol-anthems: Here is the little door, A spotless Rose, Sing lullaby
Matthew MARTIN (b.1976)
Nowell sing we
What sweeter music
Francis POTT (b.1957)
English traditional, arr. David WILLCOCKS (1919-2015)
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
Grayston IVES (b.1948)
Lo, how a rose e'er blooming
William WALTON (1902-1983)
All this time
Long, long ago
Howard SKEMPTON (b.1947)
Adam lay-y-bounden
Stephen JACKSON (b.1951)
The Virgin's Song
Old German, arr. Bob CHILCOTT (b.1955)
In dulci jubilo
Franz GRUBER (1787-1863), arr. David HILL (b.1957)
Silent night
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) transcribed by Andrew CARTER (b.1939)
Lullaby my Jesus
James PIERPONT (1822-1893) arr. Richard SHEPHERD (b.1949)
Jingle Bells
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on Christmas Carols
The Choir of York Minster/Robert Sharpe, David Pipe (organ)
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

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