Alistair MacDonald
British Music Society Journal
December 2019

This is a well thought out and presented programme in three sections corresponding to the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany with each section preceded by a liturgically appropriate chant. These are followed by three masterly motets by William Byrd: Vigilate , Puer natus est nobis and Ecce advenit, all given sensitive, performances that lie firmly within the Anglican cathedral tradition.

The chosen programme covers a wide range of periods and styles with some particularly interesting contemporary pieces. Among these include a lively setting of Benjamin Hall Kennedy’s Saviour of the world by Alun Hoddinott—a sparkling and witty arrangement of The Seven Joys of Mary from the pen of William Whitehead, the Associate Organist of Lincoln’s Inn Chapel, and an exhilarating setting of Nowell sing we by Matthew Martin. This features a medieval carol text, with its tricky rhythms, confidently articulated by the choir and organist Luke Bond, the consistently reliable accompanist.

Other gems from this most enjoyable collection include the Bogoroditse Devo by the Estonian master Arvo Pärt—an exciting interpretation of the Ave Maria full of impact. John Heighway in his useful booklet notes writes of the Pärt that it ‘conveys the excitement of the approaching birth of Jesus with alternations of duple and triple metre and chant-like melodic repetitions building to a joyous climax before subsiding into a mood of hushed awe’.

There are a number of items that emanate from unfamiliar hands. Among these are the Carol of the Bells by the Ukrainian composer Leontovych, translated by the American teacher and conductor Peter J. Wilhousky and Watts’ Cradle Song by the New Zealand composer Richard Madden which features rich warm textures that reflect the character of the text.

This listener was also greatly attracted to an especially sensitive performance of Adam’s evergreen Cantique de Noël by the tenor Nicholas Madden and a fascinating arrangement of David Briggs’s Away in a manger with an organ part with more than a hint of Messiaen. Both attractive and sensitive was Alan Bullard’s (if not entirely original) setting of the Christmas poem Balulalow by the Dundee brothers Wedderburn.

All in all, this is a seasonal disc that is well worth exploring.