Cherwell

Review: ‘This Christmas Night’: Worcester College Choir

Oxford already offers rich pickings for choir connoisseurs.  With the Chapel Choirs of Merton and Queen’s joining the highly regarded trinity (Magdalen, New and Christ Church), the new recording from Worcester has some tough competition. This is a CD which proves that they can definitely hold their own.

‘This Christmas Night’ brings together a selection of contemporary carols inspired by the Christmas story. Ranging from Judith Bingham to Cecilia McDowall, the CD spans a wide range of repertoire and includes an impressive 11 world premiere recordings. Even as the soprano line of Hafliði Hallgrímsson’s ‘Joseph and the Angel’ echoes around Keble College Chapel at the very start of the disc, the Worcester singers envelop their listener in the mood of an advent service. Although the space may be large, the warmth of the tone prevents the music from sounding impersonal. The sound is well blended and chord voicing generally good, but at points the texture does appear to be somewhat top-heavy: the sopranos often slightly protruded (at times possessing slight discrepancies of intonation).

The choir revel in dissonances, from the bluesy inflections of Mark-Anthony Turnage to the poignant appoggiaturas of Richard Allain’s ‘Balulalow’. Although they are attentive to fluctuations of mood throughout the disc, this aspect is brought to the forefront in their emotive interpretation of the Allain. However, it is the sense of enjoyment which the choir brings to this repertoire which makes this CD such a delight to listen to. They hold a variety of colours at their disposal to great effect, allowing them to illuminate McDowall’s playful rhythms in ‘Of a Rose’ and lend clarity to the soaring octave contours in Skempton’s ‘There is no rose’. A personal highlight is Peter Maxwell Davies’ ‘Fleecy Care Carol’: the singers tackle the angular melodic lines with confidence, emerging into a rich and full climax.

Not only is the virtuosity of the ensemble on show, but also that of individual singers. Several tracks contain well-executed solos (although special mention must go to the performer of the formidable solo part in Lutyens’ ‘Nativity’). Organist Stephen Farr is given the chance to shine both as soloist and accompanist. The premiere recording of Thomas Hyde’s ‘Improvisation on Puer natus’’ sees him bring out the subtleties of the music through changes of register and his formidable technique. Farr is equally skilled as an accompanist, further elevating the choir.

This refreshing selection of contemporary carols is given capable performances by Worcester College Chapel Mixed Choir. With so much new repertoire, this is a CD which invites multiple listenings. It certainly makes a change from the standard fare, and marks Worcester College Chapel Mixed Choir out as one to watch.

‘This Christmas Night’ is available from Resonus Classics (http://www.resonusclassics.com/this-christmas-night). Worcester College Chapel Mixed Choir will launch the CD with a concert in Worcester College Chapel on Saturday 24th November 2012 at 19:30. Tickets are £5/1 (concessions and students).