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Hyperion Records

NOEL2 - A Christmas Present from Polyphony
Christmas Delivery by José Frappa (1854-1904)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
NOEL2
Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Produced by Various producers
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: October 2004
Total duration: 65 minutes 52 seconds

'Stephen Layton directs the performances and deserves major credit for the very high standards evident on this compilation' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is a disc for listening to in peace, after the Christmas Day festivites are over and the visitors have gone' (The Daily Telegraph)

A Christmas Present from Polyphony
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Super-budget price sampler — Last few CD copies remaining  

This delightful new collection, available at budget price, brings together favourite tracks from seven acclaimed recordings: Rutter, Howells, Britten, Warlock and others—the very stuff of Christmas.

For over a decade Stephen Layton and Polyphony have been astonishing London audiences with their Christmas concert series: ‘nothing crowns the year like the annual, exhilarating eve of Christmas Eve performance of Handel’s Messiah by the choir Polyphony under Stephen Layton’. Alongside extravagant oratorio performances, the group has presented a cappella programmes of Christmas music to audiences enthralled by the range of repertoire available. This compact disc brings together music from many of these acclaimed recordings.

Also included is a tantalizing preview of Polyphony’s forthcoming recording of Morten Lauridsen’s choral music (CDA67449).


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
For over a decade Stephen Layton and Polyphony have been astonishing London audiences with their Christmas concert series: ‘nothing crowns the year like the annual, exhilarating Eve of Christmas Eve performance of Handel’s Messiah by the choir Polyphony under Stephen Layton’. Alongside extravagant oratorio performances, the group has presented a cappella programmes of Christmas music to audiences enthralled by the range of repertoire available. This album brings together music from many of these acclaimed recordings.

Following their Gramophone ‘editor’s choice’ disc of John Rutter’s Requiem, Stephen Layton and Polyphony have gone on to record Rutter’s Gloria and the disc of Christmas music from which four of these tracks are taken. Arrangements of the traditional carols Silent night and Away in a manger are contrasted with the orchestrally accompanied Nativity Carol and Shepherd’s Pipe Carol to give something of a cross-section of this composer’s enormous output of seasonal favourites.

The ‘winning recipe’ of Stephen Layton’s O magnum misterium programme, recorded in 1996, presents a sequence of twentieth-century carols and Sarum chant. For this compilation we have chosen two perfectly formed miniatures by Herbert Howells, Sing Lullaby and A Spotless Rose, Kenneth Leighton’s response to the harrowing ‘Coventry Carol’, Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child, and two carols from Warlock’s extensive contribution to the genre. Bethlehem Down, famously written by Bruce Blunt and Peter Warlock to raise funds for Christmas drinking, has become something of a classic; Lullaby my Jesus is an arrangement by Andrew Carter of a perfect little melody from Warlock’s suite Capriol.

William Walton, sometime president of the Peter Warlock Society, contributes two carols: All this time and What cheer? were written for the famous Carols for Choirs series published by Oxford University Press. They are taken from a recording which focuses on the composer’s Missa Brevis and the grand Coronation Te Deum and which also includes all three versions of A Litany, first crafted when the composer was just fourteen.

The music of Norwegian master Edvard Grieg and Australian maverick Percy Grainger is the subject of a fascinating musical survey, At Twilight, made possible by the deep friendship which developed between the two after a chance meeting in London. The elder composer’s Ave, maris stella sets a shortened version of a Latin Hymn anticipating the joys to come from Jesus’ birth; Grainger’s version of The Sussex Mummer’s Carol, by contrast, is a textless – endearing – ramble. Stephen Layton’s championship of the music of Percy Grainger has also seen a pioneering first recording of the Jungle Book cycle.

Polyphony was formed in 1986 for a concert in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, so it is appropriate for this disc to include Stephen Layton’s arrangement of that staple of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, The Three Kings by Peter Cornelius. The soloist’s text, by Cornelius himself, tells the Christmas story as seen through the eyes of a child, while the choir adds a Lutheran chorale in the bass; the anthem is here performed in the original German and comes from a disc dedicated to Cornelius’s choral music.

A recent Hyperion release of Arvo Pärt’s Triodion and other works (which includes several premiere recordings) has become an immediate best-seller; O Morgenstern is taken from Polyphony’s earlier ‘landmark recording’ which included the Berliner Messe. This Magnificat Antiphon, assigned in the liturgy to 21 December, leads on this disc into what is perhaps Pärt’s most popular work, the Magnificat setting from 1989.

The next two carols, mixing the old with the new, are taken from Polyphony’s Gramophone award-winning recording of Benjamin Britten’s Sacred and Profane. A Hymn to the Virgin was composed from his sick bed when Britten was just sixteen and sets an anonymous thirteenth-century text, while the Chorale after an Old French Carol casts a contemporary text by W H Auden against the traditional French hymn tune ‘Picardy’.

The remaining piece on this recording, taken from a recording of Morten Lauridsen’s Lux aeterna and other choral works, is a triumph: Lauridsen’s response to the beautiful O magnum mysterium text was premiered in 1994 and perfectly encapsulates the joyous wonder of Christmas.

Hyperion Records Ltd © 2004

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