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The Spirit of Christmas Present
BBC Welsh Chorus/John Hugh Thomas
Fanfare Trumpeters of the Welsh Guards; Huw Tregelles Williams (organ)
rec. no dates given. DDD
NIMBUS NI 7034 [62:07]
Experience Classicsonline


Shout the Glad Tidings [0:46]
Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy

O Come, All ye Faithful

BBC Welsh Chorus/John Hugh Thomas
Fanfare Trumpeters of the Welsh Guards
Huw Tregelles Williams (organ)

In dulci jubilo BWV 751 [1:54]
Kevin Bowyer (organ)

Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day [2:00]
BBC Welsh Chorus/John Hugh Thomas
Huw Tregelles Williams (organ); Chris Stock, Mark Walker (percussion)

The Skater’s Waltz [9:05]
The Gulbenkian Orchestra/Michel Swierczewski

Love Came Down at Christmas [3:20]
Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy
James Higdon (organ)

I Saw Three Ships [1:50]
Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy
Gustav HOLST

In the Bleak Mid-Winter [4:20]
Christ Church Cathedral Choir/Stephen Darlington

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme BWV 645 [4:13]
Kevin Bowyer (organ)

The First Nowell [5:20]
BBC Welsh Chorus/John Hugh Thomas
Huw Tregelles Williams (organ)

Fantasia on Greensleeves [4:14]
English String Orchestra/William Boughton
Arr. Kevin OLDHAM

Silent Night from Three Carols Op. 20 [3:47]
Pamela Williamson (soprano); Lyra Pringle Pherigo (flute); Welsey Kelly (harp)
Howard BLAKE

Walking in the Air from The Snowman [3:37]
Kevin Bowyer (organ)

Once in Royal David’s City [5:10]
BBC Welsh Chorus/John Hugh Thomas
Fanfare Trumpeters of the Welsh Guards
Huw Tregelles Williams (organ)
Norman Dello JOIO

The Holy Infant’s Lullaby [4:44]
Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy
James Higdon (organ)

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing [3:29]

With such a huge choice of Christmas music available on disc, the art of producing a Christmas CD that works on every level is a difficult one to perfect. A select handful of discs remain self recommending - the immortal Christmas Eve Festival of Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge for one. However, for many amongst the dozens of discs that are newly thrust onto the overflowing yuletide bandwagon - or should I say sleigh - every year, it proves impossible to avoid a rapid descent into the abyss of mediocrity.

Sadly this 1996 compilation from Nimbus falls into the latter category and manages to miss the mark both in terms of the quality of a good deal of its production values and its musical content.

Such familiar fare as the Willcocks arrangements of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Once In Royal David’s City need little or no introduction. On the other hand the fact that there are no liner notes whatsoever leaves disappointing gaps in the knowledge of the listener. This is a particularly grievous loss when it comes to the less well known offerings such as Leo Sowerby’s Love Came Down at Christmas or Kevin Oldham’s re-setting of the familiar words of Silent Night.

It would be helpful too if there was at least a brief introduction to some of the performers. The BBC Welsh Chorus and organist Huw Tregelles Williams will be known to many. The less familiar Kansas City Chorale and the three individual musicians involved in the Oldham setting are new names to this reviewer. All of the music on the compilation is drawn from four previously released CDs. Whilst anyone who owns any of the four discs is not likely to buy this compilation, the possibility exists that someone approaching the compilation first might just be tempted by discs entirely devoted to the Kansas City Chorale or organist Kevin Bowyer. Surely this is adequate reason for a modicum of background information to be given here as a taster.

Couple this with the fact that the flimsy liner has a home photocopied feel to it and the presentation simply does not reflect Nimbus at its best.

The music itself proves to be something of a mixed bag but it doesn’t help that the running order is not always comfortable. For instance, Ned Rorem’s fleeting forty-six second unaccompanied Shout the Glad Tidings seems oddly placed to open the disc when it is followed by the blazing brass of George Willcocks and his familiar version of O Come, All Ye Faithful. Waldteufel’s Skater’s Waltz would be a welcome touch of variety were it not for the rather run-of-the-mill performance by The Gulbenkian Orchestra. The Vaughan Williams Greensleeves Fantasia, not perhaps the most obvious choice in the context of its surroundings, receives a brisk reading from William Boughton and the English String Orchestra. Sadly this robs the music of a good deal of its gentle grace and nobility. Even the usually reliable BBC Welsh Chorus and the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Welsh Guards are not in the most seasonally uplifting of spirits for several of their contributions.

On the positive side Kevin Bowyer’s In Dulci Jubilo is a delight; Howard Blake’s Walking in the Air less so, being far more effective in its original setting for voice and orchestra. The Kansas City Chorale is enthusiastic in its commitment with Norman Dello Joio’s The Holy Infant’s Lullaby being a particularly attractive addition. The same goes for the sole contribution from Stephen Darlington and his Christ Church Cathedral Choir who sing Holst’s setting of In the Bleak Mid-Winter with delicate beauty.

Ultimately however, the fact remains that there are far superior Christmas discs to be had. As such this is not a CD that is likely to find its way to the top of many Christmas shopping lists.

Christopher Thomas


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