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The youthful voices of Yale Schola Cantorum, conducted by David Hill, make a pleasant blend and are well balanced with the accompanying baroque instruments Schütz: The Christmas Story. The work consists of eight tableaux (intermedia) for solo voices and/or chorus plus recitatives for tenor evangelist. Six other short works include Ave Maria, Magnificat and Hodie Christus natus est. Soloists and players perform with stylistic integrity; the recording has dry acoustics and diction lacks some clarity in chorus movements, but that doesn’t detract from brilliant composition and fine musicality.

Centre-stage on Stile Antico’s A Spanish Nativity is Alonso Lobo’s sublime Missa Beata dei genitrix Maria, interleaved with motets by Victoria, Guerrero and Morales. There are piquant villancicos (Spanish carols) including the joyous Ríu ríu chíu of Mateo Flecha’s El Viejo. Both sides of the Spanish golden age are portrayed here in stunning music.

Alternating the ‘O’ Antiphons (in English) with contemporary and renaissance pieces, Advent Carols from King’s College London was recorded in the cavernous All Hallows, Gospel Oak, with its great Hill organ. Under Joseph Fort’s energetic direction the King’s voices shine, especially in new works by George Benjamin and Kerensa Briggs. Atmospheric and highly recommended.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor, directed by James Vivian with Luke Bond at the organ, is an outstanding disc on several levels: the choir are at the top of their game, the rich repertoire spans Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, and new works are of consistent high quality. Surprising Advent pieces from Finnissy and Pärt, new takes on Christmas standards from David Briggs and Richard Madden, and refreshing Epiphany offerings from Alan Bullard and Matthew Martin combine with established repertoire and three Byrd motets for good measure.

The close recording of the male voice line-up of The Gesualdo Six Christmas reveals the tightness of their ensemble in repertoire ranging from Praetorius to Cheryl Frances-Hoad. Tenor Joseph Wicks’s a cappella arrangement of Jonathan Harvey’s The Annunciation and director Owain Park’s vibrant On the Infancy of our Saviour complement well-chosen pieces, making for a delightful and informative listening experience – and a thoughtful stocking filler!

The lyrical melodies and comfortable harmonies of Ben Parry’s choral writing are as appealing to singers as to listeners. Ben Parry: Music for Christmas, with the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and the Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral under the direction of Sarah MacDonald, is a useful release of well-known texts in all-new settings. The combined voices are effective advocates for repertoire to broaden the Christmas canon.

Three cycles for upper voices are eloquently presented on Make we Merry by the well-honed singing of Benenden Chapel Choir, directed by Edward Whiting, and coloured with brass, piano, percussion and cello. David Bednall’s Make we Merry is less sugary than its title suggests and exhibits variety across its eight movements; sparser modal sounds are heard in Canadian Sarah Quartel’s Snow Angel; and Bob Chilcott’s sparky language in The Midnight of your Birth completes this innovative collection.

A Baroque Christmas is a Christmas present that will entertain and enlighten well into the new year. Previously released recordings from Harmonia mundi comprise J.S. Bach’s Weihnachts-Oratorium (discs 1 & 2) in a performance that is hard to surpass, with the RIAS Kammerchor and Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, directed by René Jacobs. The lesser-known and remarkable Pastorale sur la naissance de notre Seigneur by Charpentier exhibits energy with precision and the sweetest of baroque instrumental accompaniment, performed by Ensemble Correspondances under the baton of Sébastien Daucé. Jacobs conducts Concerto Vocale on the fourth disc, featuring works by Corelli, Rosenmüller, Buxtehude and Schütz.

MATTHEW POWER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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