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Steve Schwartz
Classical Net, June 2012

Christmas brings out the best and worst in record labels. On the other hand, you…get stuff like this program of Christmas music by British composers of the conservative Modern wing, much of it written for amateur chorus. For me, the outstanding items come from Holst, Howells, and Finzi, although every piece is attractive and well-made.

Holst’s Christmas Day resembles Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols. It uses the following carols: “In dulci jubilo,” “God rest ye merry, gentlemen” “The first Nowell,” and a Breton carol, “Come ye lofty, come ye lowly.” Holst never wastes a note and perfectly harmonizes the tunes. All in all, a lovely, unpretentious piece.

Another composer strongly impressed by Vaughan Williams’s music, Gerald Finzi concentrated largely on vocal and choral music. In terra pax, one of his last scores, sets a poem by Robert Bridges, an agnostic’s meditation on Christmas, with St. Luke’s angel’s appearance to the shepherds. A tuneful melodic line takes us “naturally,” seamlessly through the narrative with music of rare beauty.

Kenneth Leighton’s output splits into “accessible” and “hard.” A visionary aspect glows through his output, especially in his large number of religiously inspired works. “A Hymn of the Nativity” sets a poem by 17th-century Catholic Richard Crashaw. Religious intensity marks it throughout.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Folk Songs of the Four Seasons appeared late in his output, in 1950. The CD presents the final movement, “Winter,” which sets the carols on Vaughan Williams’s Christmas juke box: “We’ve been the while a-wandering,” “Wassail Song,” “In Bethlehem city,” and “God bless the master of this house.” I’d previously heard this in churches at Christmas with piano accompaniment only, so it was a particular pleasure to hear it with the orchestra.

…the performances are very good. The City of London Choir is a high-quality community group…Julia Doyle and Roderick Williams…shine in the Finzi. Wetton and Bournemouth deliver professional readings. © 2012 Classical Net Read complete review

Robert A Moore
American Record Guide, November 2010

The choir sings with nimbleness and grace. Indeed The Times rightly calls them a “leader among non-professional choruses”. The soloists sing beautifully. Williams especially sings eloquently, with melting beauty, in the Finzi. Sound and the performance are both excellent. This Christmas if you’re looking for something that goes beyond the many fine collections of carols, don’t overlook this.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Charlotte Gardner
Classic FM, January 2010

Familiar-sounding while still ticking the ‘something different’ box. A welcome resurrection of under-performed British gems, sung and played with great warmth.

Christopher Cook
International Record Review, December 2009

Has Finzi’s In Terra Pax been done better on disc? Williams is a deeply sympathetic soloist…musical ingredients…blended with consummate artistry.

David Threasher
Gramophone, December 2009

Choir, orchestra and soloists Julia Doyle and Roderick Williams on fine form…an elegant concert programme.

BBC Music Magazine, December 2009

Roderick Williams sings beautifully…The City of London Choir [is in] beautifully committed voice…[a] valuable anthology.

John Allison
Gramophone, December 2009

It’s not often I get into the spirit of Christmas, but a new recording of Finzi’s In Terra Pax is something to be celebrated and shared. The City of London Choir’s disc superbly catches the visionary quality of this music.

George Balcombe
Music & Vision, November 2009

This miraculous setting of four English verses from the fifteenth century acknowledges the English contribution to the cathedral. It is not cliché to say that this music is divine.

In order of birth, the carolcade can be classified as:

Old: Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), Herbert Howells (1872–1983), Gustav Holst (1874–1934) and Peter Warlock (1894–1930)
Middle-aged: Gerald Finzi (1901–1956) and John Gardner (born 1917)
Young: John Joubert (born 1927), Kenneth Leighton (1928–1988), William Mathias (1934–1992) and John Rutter (born 1945)

The purpose of this list is to demonstrate the evolution of British music during the last 125 years.

This raises the question: ‘has British music improved?’ For this reviewer, the answer is ‘yes, and, to a large extent, through Gerald Finzi.’

Finzi’s beautiful but simple work In terra pax excels all the others on this CD. He subtitled it ‘Christmas scene’ and set it to two texts, firstly one of Robert Bridges’ lovely pastoral poems, and secondly, on a much-loved passage from St Luke’s Gospel telling the Christmas story. With a sense of drama, Finzi leaves the poem’s last twelve lines to end the music with a moving and contemplative coda.

The performance of In terra pax is superbly done by the whole company—City of London Choir; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; the two sensitive and experienced soloists, soprano Julia Doyle and baritone Roderick Williams; and conductor Hilary Davan Wetton must have devoted hours to his study of the scores.

Particularly striking on this CD is the contrast between Gustav Holst’s and Vaughan Williams’ opening and closing of the programme music and the variety of lively inventions in later works such as John Gardner’s version of the traditional carol Tomorrow shall be my dancing day in four verses with the refrain:

Sing o my love, my love;
this have I done for my true love.

Another stark contrast is formed here by John Rutter’s carol What sweeter music can we bring / Than a carol for to sing. The words are by Robert Herrick (1591–1674) making another of this CD’s beautiful melodies.

Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, November 2009

This is a very successful disc and, with one or two caveats, it’s as good a Christmas recital as you’re likely to find this year. Hilary Davan Wetton has assembled a collection of festive music by English composers all of which, you have to keep reminding yourself, was composed in the twentieth century. There are favourites here as well as new discoveries: Holst’s Christmas Day is an entirely new work to me but it is quite delightful. It is an extremely attractive fantasia of mostly well known carols, harmonised distinctively but still pleasingly. There is simple festive merriment combined with vigorous contrapuntal weaving of The First Nowell with Come ye lofty, and it moves towards a wonderfully haunting conclusion. The Warlock collection works extremely well too, the first and third carols bright and extrovert while the central Bulalow is calm and meditative. The wonderful Finzi cantata that gives the disc its name gets a fantastic performance. The orchestra has a gorgeous glow to it, from the celesta picking out the glinting frost to the spiritual warmth of the string theme. Roderick Williams sings as beautifully and intelligently as we have come to expect, while Julia Doyle’s angel is bright and clear in both tone and texture. The Vaughan Williams items are predictably fun. They are folksong based and so you may well recognise some of the melodies from other contexts. They are beautifully harmonised (for the choir) and scored (for the orchestra) and the final carol makes a rousing, wholly satisfying conclusion to the disc.

It is in the orchestral numbers that the City of London Choir sound at their best and this is in part due to the excellent acoustic of the Lighthouse, Poole. For the numbers without the orchestra we move to St Paul’s School, Hammersmith; historically speaking this is entirely appropriate as Holst, Howells and Gardner all served as directors of music there, as did Wetton. However the surroundings must have outwitted the engineers as there is a notable shift in the perspective, distancing the choir, almost casting a veil over them. They are also noticeably breathy in much of their unaccompanied singing, especially the Joubert and Howells numbers. The organ is far too loud in What sweeter music, ruining the balance, but happily things come into better alignment for Leighton’s Hymn of the Nativity. It’s a shame that these things couldn’t have been fixed, otherwise this recital would be wholly recommendable. Maybe it’s wrong to be too picky, though: the good far outweighs the bad here and at Naxos super budget price you can afford to treat any music-lover with this, confident that they’ll be happy with it.

David Vernier, November 2009

This new holiday season has brought with it some smartly programmed Christmas choral recordings, including this one that combines The City of London Choir, soloists, organ, and the Bournemouth Symphony in both familiar works (Herbert Howells’ A spotless Rose and Here is the little door; John Gardner’s Tomorrow shall be my dancing day; John Rutter’s What sweeter music; John Joubert’s There is no rose) with those we just don’t hear often enough. Among the latter are three extended pieces, Holst’s Christmas Day—a festive and cleverly structured joining of several carols with its central theme, Good Christian men, rejoice; Finzi’s In terra pax—a 16-minute setting of texts from poet Robert Bridges and from the gospel of St. Luke, its pleasingly meandering, engagingly tuneful, colorfully orchestrated style (with occasional big, dramatic outbursts) making for an evocative tone painting of “A frosty Christmas Eve when the stars were shining…”; and from Kenneth Leighton, not his well-loved Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child, but the longer and very challenging A hymn of the Nativity, which shows impressive virtuosity from the choir. It’s also a pleasure to hear Peter Warlock’s delightful little gem, Tyrley, tyrlow, as well as the more often-performed Balulalow.

Baritone Roderick Williams and soprano Julia Doyle are ideal soloists in the Finzi, but Williams stands out for his warm, lyrical tone, fluid, natural phrasing, and affecting expression. He’s a very gifted interpreter whose discs of Finzi songs and “Children’s” songs are well worth checking out. Doyle’s opening to the Leighton and subsequent interaction with the choir in this difficult a cappella work is very well done, as is the substantial contribution from the orchestra. Conductor Hilary Davan Wetton has a cool and perfectly judged sense of both the celebratory and the serene, important in realizing the variety of mood and complexity in these 20th-century works…The program ends in grand style with Vaughan Williams’ God bless the Master (the last of his set of four “Winter” songs from his Folk songs of the four seasons. You can’t help but be caught up in the joyful spirit that’s apparent throughout all the performances on this disc, from the soloists and accompanists to the choir and orchestra. And while that alone is reason enough to own this, you really shouldn’t miss the Leighton or the very rarely-recorded In terra pax, in this now-reference version of the work.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2009

Sit back and enjoy a gentle and genial Christmas as seen through the eyes of ten 20th century British composers, and at the same time greet rediscovered choral jewels. It was my task for many years to organise one of the festive season’s major events, and Finzi’s In terra pax became one of my favourite pieces, while I could rely on William Mathias’s jazzy Sir Christemas to get the audience into festive mood. Sadly I missed out on Gustav Holst’s Christmas Day, a engaging medley of popular seasonal melodies that I never encountered. The Finzi together with Winter from Vaughan Williams’s Folk songs of the Four Seasons takes up almost half the disc, both happily performed by the City of London Choir and Bournemouth Orchestra. Between we have a series of ‘lollypops’, the best known coming from John Gardner with the catchy Tomorrow shall be my dancing day, and the highly fashionable John Rutter with What sweeter music. In our yesteryears Peter Warlock’s Three Carols were  much enjoyed, and here features the soprano, Julia Doyle, a singer with one of the most ravishing voices to have recently emerged. Kenneth Leighton’s A hymn of the Nativity reminds us that we are celebrating the birth of someone very special to Christianity, Doyle’s voice again soaring effortlessly on high. Seventeen tracks, seventy minutes music, budget price—a treat in store.

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