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St John’s, Cambridge’s high-profile releases on Chandos continue with a Christmas choral compi- lation. Nostalgists for the days of former director of music George Guest must accept that the choir’s recorded sound has changed over the years, partic- ularly since the advent of ‘digital’. Brighter tone and more sharply focused attack characterises the sound now – and that doesn’t mean ‘better’, just ‘different’. But the atmosphere and intimacy of the chap- el’s acoustics still imbue the singing from Andrew Nethsingha’s well-honed ensemble.

The 24 tracks on this disc include Christmas standards in a rich variety of arrangements: David Willcocks is allowed Dancing Day and his peerless O come, all ye faithful; Philip Ledger is well repre- sented by his Sussex Carol and Silent Night; but alongside the familiar Rutter (What sweeter music), Mathias (A babe is born), Darke (In the bleak mid-winter), Rodney Bennett (Out of your sleep), Warlock (Benedicamus Domino), Joubert (There is no rose) and Tavener (The Lamb), the ear is beguiled by the distinctively different sounds of James Burton’s Balulalow, Matthew Martin’s Adam lay ybounden, Michael Finnissy’s Telling, Kenneth Leighton’s Coventry Carol and Christopher Robinson’s Make we joy. And who could fail to relish the scintillating organ accompaniments by John Challenger (with Freddie James) in Mack Wilberg’s Ding! dong! merrily and in Philip Marshall’s I saw three ships? A highly rewarding compilation.

GRAEME KAY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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