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Armonico Consort, Christopher Monks (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: June 2022
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Toby Young
Engineered by Mike Hatch & Tom Lewington
Release date: November 2023
Total duration: 53 minutes 47 seconds

Join Christopher Monks and his accomplished Armonico Consort for a traditional carol concert, seasoned favourites happily sharing the stage with some enterprising novelties.

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The repertoire chosen for this album reflects the eclectic approach to our annual ‘Carols By Candlelight’ performances, and whilst the recording includes several much-loved classics, a few have been approached slightly differently.

Whilst at university, Richard Marlow, who was then director of music at Trinity College, Cambridge had a somewhat unusual approach to writing his descants—very much inspired by polyphony, which is what he taught me. The double descant for O little town of Bethlehem is one of my favourites, which I have combined with a serene third verse setting 'How silently' by Phillip Ledger who was at King’s College Cambridge around the same time. I have also chosen the lesser-known French setting of Away in a manger, which both of my daughters prefer and who wouldn’t let me do the well-known one! Finally, I have used Elizabeth Poston’s small print note for the last verse of her setting of Jesus Christ the apple tree which calls for a canon of four sopranos intertwining the main melody with itself, creating a deliciously beautiful ending.

There are two world-premieres featured on this album—both by our composer in residence, Toby Young. The Astronomer’s Carol brilliantly captures Toby’s melody craft and superb word settings, two things so important in a carol. This piece features an almost feverish crescendo, with a wonderfully catchy chorus. The second is based on the O Antiphons which we commissioned to be the start and finish of the first half of the concert performances, usually performed beneath a reflective reading. The melody is sung by four sopranos from each of the four corners of the building, in a loose cannon, whilst below this the main choir hum simple chords which somehow mysteriously fit perfectly with the angelic conversation above.

Another notable work on this recording is The Star-Song by Jonathan Dove, a bristling and bright carol with a fabulously catchy main theme and two glorious climactic choruses. At the time of recording it somewhat surprisingly had not been featured on any other Christmas recording, but I am sure that this will soon change as it is simply wonderful—like all the other music on this recording!

Christopher Monks © 2023

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