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A seasonal treat from Naxos and Tonus Peregrinus,
with new arrangements by Antony Pitts

"Every autumn the quest begins: what can we find that is new but familiar for Christmas? Here is the answer! A collection of melodies and texts that are both traditional and fresh: fine and practical versions of old favourites, reminders of a rich and forgotten heritage, and the brand new: a living and developing repertoire. Best of all, this collection is arranged to follow the essential story from Advent to Christmas telling the story anew. "

- Simon Halsey, conductor

"I felt like I had been given a late Christmas present when one lunchtime last January the boss of Naxos, Klaus Heymann, asked me out-of-the-blue whether I'd be interested in arranging a disc of carols which Tonus Peregrinus could then record. I'd spent more time than usual last Christmas playing and singing carols in church, at home, and in the local pub, and in some cases, the charm was wearing a little thin! But to be able to look afresh at all those well-known tunes, and to be able to put them into a sequence that actually told the whole Christmas story was a real gift."

Thus began an exciting journey for Antony Pitts, from whom Naxos commissioned "The Naxos Book of Carols." 

"The carols range from many of the most famous tunes to some less familiar mediaeval items and some brand new music, including a simple but gorgeous setting by my younger brother John Pitts of "O little town of Bethlehem": although it's new, it sounds like you've always known it."
To make these beautiful arrangements easily accessible to families, communities, and places of worship throughout the world, Naxos has teamed up with Faber Music to make the sheet music for these new carols available for download through a special website - Next Christmas the scores of all 24 carols will be available in printed form from Faber Music in association with Naxos.  
This collection is comprised of 24 carols, one for each day in Advent. According to Antony Pitts, the carols were "conceived in a narrative sequence from beginning to end." The carols are arranged in four narrative sequences, each focusing on a different part of the Christmas story, from the expectation of Advent through to the visit of the wise men.  Antony’s arrangements are at times small enhancements on beautiful tunes that have endured through several centuries and at other times complete reworkings of traditional carols. For example, while researching a radio programme about the Queen's Coronation in 1953, Antony found another tune for "The Holly and the Ivy" on a tape in the BBC archives; the tune was so good that Antony decided to use it instead of the well-known one collected by Cecil Sharp. However, it was eventually discovered that the two tunes were destined to intertwine - like the greenery in the title.  Antony's favourite pairing, however, is "Personent hodie" followed by "In dulci jubilo" -- "to me, they sum up the freedom and the joy I felt when composing the arrangements, and the unity between the very old and the very new."

While composing and recording the new arrangements, Antony was reading a book detailing the experiences of victims of persecution in a particular country.  The book made such an impact on him that he dedicated the recording to those who are unable to sing and worship freely throughout the world. "I was very struck by the stark contrast between the unthinkable persecution that many of them face there and the freedom which I have to write and perform sacred music in the UK," said Antony. "It made me realise how much I take the substance of the words and music of these Christmas carols for granted, while others are prepared to go to prison and to face death for the same faith and hope."

"I think it's very exciting indeed that a record company like Naxos is moving into the area of commissioning new work, rather than just recording existing repertoire," says Antony.  "It takes some faith on the part of the boss to believe that these new arrangements will be accepted and liked by Naxos's wide audience, and of course I hope he's been justified in making this adventurous step. Certainly we enjoyed singing and recording them! It's also wonderful that Naxos is teaming up with Faber Music in order to put the printed versions of the carols in the hands of singers around the world."

"This collection of carols is different to most in that it avoids the brantub approach; instead the carols are linked both musically and into a narrative sequence - which seemed to me to fall very neatly into four sections: the hope and expectancy of the Advent season, the message both of the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary and of the angels to the shepherds some nine months later, the traditional focus on the manger-birth scene, and finally the visit of the wise men and ultimately 'all nations' to adore the King of Kings. Each of the four sections ends with a big congregational hymn/carol with an opportunity for some celebratory harmonic fireworks in the last verses."

The recording process was both fun and fruitful for Tonus Peregrinus, who found themselves summoning Christmas cheer despite the heat for the July recording sessions. Antony reflects, "I set about collecting and arranging these carols in May, June and July, and we recorded them with Tonus Peregrinus at the very end of July: it seemed very surreal to be sketching Christmas carols in blazing sunshine, wearing shorts and drinking iced water, and then to be singing about King Wenceslas trudging through the snow, but I suppose that juxtaposition is very familiar in the Southern hemisphere, even if not for us! The whole project - from commission in January to release in November - has taken place in a relatively short timescale, and that certainly added to the excitement when we were recording in the fabulous acoustics of St Jude-on-the-Hill in Hampstead Garden Suburb."

Although countertenor Alexander L'Estrange was fascinated by the idea of forming a sort of musical Advent Calendar, perhaps his strongest memory of the sessions is "the juxtaposition of singing Christmas carols and playing cricket in the church garden."
L'Estrange was not the only cricket fan who enjoyed the weather during the sessions.  Richard Eteson, tenor, reflects, "The refreshing thing about 'The Naxos Book of Carols' is that despite recording these pieces in a hot English July (with a cricket bat on standby for the breaks!), the carols were fresh and new.  Drawing on the traditional themes of Christmas and the widely loved traditional melodies and carols, these arrangements offer a new perspective on a tradition that is so often repeated."  In addition to the fun and excitement of recording the new arrangements, Tonus Peregrinus found a higher purpose in their work, as expressed by Eteson: "It is hoped that choirs throughout the world will share this experience of revisiting the carols of Christmas through a new perspective, by singing the arrangements themselves.  This is, ultimately, the best way to take part in Christmas."

The Naxos Book of Carols is now available through all fine music stores and online through Faber Music in the UK. It will be available in the US from November 18 exclusively through The CD also will be available in Norway, Ireland, Belgium, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Australia. Watch for a worldwide release next year, along with the 24 carols in printed form from Faber Music.

More information:

The Naxos Book of Carols
Download the sheet music exclusively from
Faber Music:

Available for a limited time this holiday season!  Great for choirs and families.

Choral Classics from Naxos:

Experience the ethereal sounds of Antony Pitts and Tonus Peregrinus in Arvo Pärt's Passio


"Certainly this characteristically ascetic setting of St John's gospel, composed in 1982, is one that transcends the doubt and nihilism of its own age to offer something with a simple honesty, quiet beauty and beguiling directness of expression. Antony Pitts' Tonus Peregrinus deliver an elegantly agile and eloquent performance of depth and distinction."

- James Jolly, Gramophone, April 2003, Editor's Choice

Rutter's Requiem, performed by the Clare College Choir, Cambridge, is a must for every sacred choral collection
"This new version, with Rutter as recording producer, offers a first-rate rendition of the composer's alternative chamber arrangement of the Requiem along with several rarely-heard--or never-before-recorded--choral and organ works . . . the choir is a model of responsiveness and sensitivity in phrasing and dynamics, preserving ideal balance across registers and among vocal section."

- David Vernier,, 10/10 for Artistic and Sound Quality


Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group