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CD Review

The Wonder of Christmas

  • Adolphe-Charles Adam: O Holy Night
  • Henry John Gauntlett: Once in Royal David's City
  • Benjamin Britten: A Boy Was Born, Op. 3 (Theme)
  • Stuart Thompson: The Holly and the Ivy
  • Jean Mouton: Motet "Nesciens Mater Virgo Virum"
  • William J. Kirkpatrick: Away in a Manger (arr. B. Chilcott)
  • Howard Skempton: Adam lay y-bounden
  • Mark Sirett: Ecce Concipies
  • John Tavener: Rocking
  • John Rutter: There Is a Flower
  • Michael Praetorius: Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming
  • Robert H. Young: Who is He in Yonder Stall
  • Traditional:
  • What Child Is This? (arr. P. Halley)
  • My Dancing Day (arr. B. Chilcott)
  • Ding! Dong! Merrily on High (arr. M. Wilberg & P. Stevens)
  • Gabriel's Message (arr. G. Brown)
  • I Wonder as I Wander (arr. L. Enns)
  • The First Nowell (arr. P. Halley)
Michael Bloss, organ
Elora Festival Singers/Noel Edison
Naxos 8.573421
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This beautifully recorded album is not your standard issue Christmas program. If you picked it up off the shelf, you could be tricked into believing that this excellent Canadian choral ensemble has presented a standard English (er, Commonwealth) Christmas. Starting with Once in royal David's City, the disc looks oh-so-typical. Even diehard choral fans who don't need composers listed on the back of the box will see a Rutter piece here, a Tavener piece there. But this is much more than meets the eye.

After that very traditional opening number (heard in the typical Willcocks arrangement), the program focuses largely on modern arrangements of well-known carols. The Chilcott re-imagining of My Dancing Day is terrific, as is a very slow and almost mystical version of Lo, How a Rose. Two vastly different pieces in Latin, composed almost 500 years apart, are sung with appropriate style and taste. The Britten, Rutter, and Tavener pieces are all documented elsewhere, but break up the old-fashioned feel of the album very nicely. In fact, the only misfire is a very odd take on The Holly and the Ivy, with almost angry organ and a choral sound that misses – in my view – the entire message of the piece. Conversely, O Holy Night is less syrupy than usual, and it's always fun to hear someone other than David Willcocks working with carols.

Throughout the program, the Elora Festival Singers prove worthy of their world-class reputation. Naxos has always repaid their artistry with sound of the highest order, and so it proves here. Noel Edison and his singers should be commended for giving us such a worthwhile Christmas gift, one which adds to a list of underrated holiday projects the label has generously given us over the years.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman