, November 2006
Noel Edison and his fine professional choir have already made some excellent recordings for Naxos and here now is a splendid collection of Christmas pieces.
The chosen programme is well balanced between tried and trusted favourites such as In the Bleak Midwinter, The Linden Tree Carol and Silent Night – I’m not sure whose harmonies are used in the latter – and less familiar fare. A brace of popular Christmas hymns is included and Noel Edison has furnished effective descants to both. Indeed, his descant for O Come All Ye Faithful is the best I’ve heard since the deservedly popular version by Sir David Willcocks. In both this hymn and Hark the Herald Angels Sing Edison adds majestic organ harmonies for the concluding verses as well.
It’s good – and appropriate – that this crack Canadian choir gives us some music from their own country. The Huron Carol was written in about 1641and is one of the first known examples of North American Christmas music. The present arrangement is very nice and it’s beautifully sung. The inclusion of The Three Kings by Healey Willan (1880-1968) is even more appropriate: though Willan was English by birth he spent most of his working life presiding over the music of the very church in which this recording was made. I hadn’t heard this particular piece of his before but I found it to be most enjoyable, exhibiting Willan’s habitual sensitivity in his writing for voices.
Another welcome discovery for me was Honegger’s Laudate Dominum. This is a festive piece, tuneful and jolly. It builds to an exuberant ‘Amen’ underpinned by full organ.
Much better known is the music that forms the centre of gravity of the programme, Poulenc’s wondrous Christmas Motets. These masterful settings are beautifully performed here. The singers capture just the right note of sensuousness in ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ - my own favourite in the set. They also convey the mystery of ‘Videntes Stellam’ very well while the concluding ‘Hodie Christus Natus est’ is buoyant but splendidly controlled. In this last piece, especially, I was struck by the excellent balance of the choir, which allows Poulenc’s piquant harmonies to register amid the rejoicing of the setting.
I was slightly disappointed with the performance of Poston’s Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. There’s nothing wrong with the singing but Noel Edison takes it too slowly, I feel, and rather over-interprets the piece. It’s rare that one finds a Christmas disc that doesn’t contain a setting by John Rutter. Here the choice falls upon What Sweeter Music. This carol, with it’s lovely melody, winning even by Rutter’s standards, is one of his best Christmas pieces and Edison and his choir perform it very well indeed.
It was an imaginative touch to end the recital not with the obvious choice, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, but with John Tavener’s arresting God is with Us. The unnamed tenor soloist is terrific, really proclaiming the message of his solo with burning conviction and the ending, with its huge organ chords, is simply stunning.
This is a quite splendid disc. The singing is superb throughout, the programme is imaginative and enterprising and the performances are captured in excellent sound. This will make an excellent Christmas present for a musical friend. Better still, buy two copies and treat yourself too. Happy Christmas!