Clare College Choir from Cambridge University has proven itself before with a Christmas CD. Carols from Clare (EMI) is still near or at the top of the heap for standard renditions of popular carols. The gifted amateur singers and orchestra under John Rutter jumped the shark and produced a masterpiece for the Christmas season.
Under Graham Ross, this new Harmonia Mundi release is based upon the favoured him of the Advent Season, Veni Emmanuel. The disc notes suggest that ‘the familiar hymn is emblematic of the Advent season – a period of reflection upon the meaning of Christ’s coming. Framing this programme, the hymn paraphrases the great ‘O’ Antiphons (plainchant settings traditionally sung on the days leading up to Christmas), complemented here by later works echoing their rich imagery and symbolism.’
The later works that echo beautifully are by a diverse group of composers, Byrd, Howells, Roderick Williams, Praetorius, John Sheppard, John Rutter, Bach, Mendelssohn, Warlock, Graham Ross, John Tavener, and Rachmaninov.
This is not a standard Christmas CD. As the music celebrates ‘Advent’ (waiting and preparation), the repertoire choices are more expectant than birthday. The music, often plainsong (an unaccompanied melodic line) is akin to a single thematic event rather than the ability to pick and choose your favourite carols. The polyphonic music by Byrd, Howells, Bach, Mendelssohn, etc is framed by the plainsong Antiphons, which are responsory by nature.
The repertoire choices are interesting and sound somewhat mystical. Even the arrangement of Praetorius’ evergreen Es ist ein’ Ros’ entsprungen is other worldly. The harmonious strains of a Bach Chorale makes for quite a jolt down to earth.
The singing standard is generally good. The Chapel Choir has maintained its standard under Graham Ross - he produces a euphonious sound with good intonation (under the watchful eye of producer and previous director, John Rutter).
As a recording, it’s of demonstration quality. John Rutter, composer, conductor, arranger, producer also acts as engineer. A very talented human being.
If you know the famous EMI recording and are hoping for much of the same, I think you’ll be disappointed. This release is for fans of English chapel choirs (Clare is SATB, no boy sopranos like Kings, etc) interested in hearing some different repertoire at this time of year. I count myself among the former.
harmonia mundi HMU907579
Playing time: 76:33