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The Christmas album

Phoenix Chorale, Christopher Gabbitas (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: January 2023
Camelback Bible Church, Paradise Valley, Arizona, USA
Produced by Blanton Alspaugh
Engineered by John Newton & Jacob Steingart
Release date: November 2023
Total duration: 71 minutes 20 seconds

The Phoenix Chorale, founded in 1958, is regarded as one of North America’s leading professional choirs. This is their first recording for the best part of a decade, and every bit worth the wait: a Christmas celebration infused with Hispanic flavours and more than a hint of the King's Singers background of their current director.

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A Christmas or Holiday season without choral music would be a meagre celebration indeed; for many centuries poets and composers have created some of their most enduring work when considering the birth of Jesus on the sacred side, and the legend of Santa Claus, gifts under the tree and a cozy fireside nap on the secular front. Repertoire choices here are fertile ground for any choral director! And so, for Phoenix Chorale’s first recording with Signum (and first of any kind in almost ten years) a mixed selection of Christmas music seemed like a good place to start.

In choosing repertoire, we wanted to acknowledge the extent of Hispanic influence that has helped to shape this corner of the US—from the Renaissance polyphony of Francisco Guerrero to modern arrangements of Catalonian Folksongs and newly edited text for Noche de paz, as well as a wonderful a cappella arrangement of La peregrinaçion from Ariel Ramirez’ Navidad Nuestra. It seems probable that Guerrero’s work would have been sung across what is now the State of Arizona, in the Mission churches that were built during the 17th century; contemporary manuscripts of his work exist in the Cathedral Library in Puebla, Mexico. Many of these pieces have been re-arranged or updated for the Chorale and this recording, allowing us to present them to the world as fresh festive gifts.

Combining ancient and modern literature reminds us that the winter festival has long had an important place in the cycle of the seasons, but that as traditions constantly evolve we can look at it anew each year. Orlando Lassus’ Resonet in laudibus was composed over four centuries ago, but remains fresh and energized—a masterpiece to this day. Contemporary arrangements of Veni, veni Emmanuel and Gaudete honor the past whilst looking to the future, and we are delighted to present the world premiere recording of Cecilia McDowall’s Trinity Triptych, settings of three “O” antiphons for Advent and Christmas, commissioned by Phoenix Chorale to celebrate the centenary of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Phoenix.

Choral composition in the United States has been experiencing an explosion in recent years, and is well-represented in this recording. Elizabeth Poston’s Jesus Christ the apple tree has long been considered the benchmark setting of the text, and few composers would dare approach it; Stanford Scriven does so here with a simplicity and honesty that has created an instant classic. Tom Peterson’s beautiful setting of A quiet chamber and Kira Zeeman Rugen’s haunting Wexford Carol are home-grown works that showcase the wealth of talent in Phoenix. In the bleak mid-winter adds to the traditional carols given a modern twist.

Finally, a selection of 20th-century favorites brings the recording to a close. Two Alexander L’Estrange arrangements—originally written for The King’s Singers and heard here in their first SATB recordings—add spice and entertainment to proceedings, along with Ben Parry’s wonderful Jingle bells, and the ultimate Holiday encore in the shape of The Christmas song.

We hope that you can feel the warmth that emanates from the singers and gives Phoenix Chorale its signature sound; we welcome you into our Holiday celebration and thank you for choosing us as part of your festive soundtrack.

Phoenix Chorale © 2023

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