Fantasy Carol service

Apse mosaic from Hagia Sophia

Apse mosaic from Hagia Sophia

It’s the time of year for making lists (and checking them twice), so here’s my contribution: my favourite nine choir carols, roughly in the order of a Nine Lessons and Carols service. Nothing startling or original here, but lots of happy memories of Christmas singing.

Adam lay ybounden Boris Ord
Very predictable, I know, but I’ve always loved this, and I was entranced by the old English words back in the days when I was a little girl soprano.

Hodie Christus Natus Est Poulenc
A new discovery this year. Funky and exciting, full of surprises, contrasts and jazzy syncopation – and it has a blazing alto introduction that is not for the faint-hearted.

Long, long ago Howells.
Howells’ lovely harmonies blossom out into the most radiant finish. The text is particularly poignant: it tells how Christ will heal the world’s woes and bring an end to war, and was written by John Buxton in a POW camp in 1940.

Ríu Ríu Chíu Spanish villancico
It’s fun and bouncy, especially if you add in a bit of percussion. And it’s in Spanish which isn’t a language you get to sing in very often. Probably the only thing on this list that I’ve not actually sung. Hint hint.

Bogoroditse Dyevo Rachmaninov
The Russian version of the Ave Maria, from Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil. It’s rich, warm and passionate, one for singing from the heart with everything you’ve got.

A Babe is Born William Mathias
I love the mixture of Latin and English that comes in so many medieval Christmas poems, and Mathias’s setting has great rhythmic zinginess. Has to be sung with guts and energy.

O Little one sweet harm J.S. Bach
You want happy altos at Christmas? You know what to do.

O Magnum Mysterium Victoria
Lots of people get excited about Lauridsen, and Poulenc’s setting is good, but for me, you can’t beat Victoria. The spooky opening, then that “Cujus viscera” that hits you right in the guts, and finally the ecstatic Alleluia – it captures the mystery of the perfectly. Tallis’s Videte Miraculum comes in the same category but with all the repeats it’s a bit long even for a fantasy carol service.

The Three Kings Peter Cornelius
This one’s for my Mum because we both love it.

So there you go, and not a single piece of Rutter anywhere. All sorts of things nearly made it – VW’s arrangement of This is the truth and Darke’s In the bleak midwinter were very close contenders as was Patrick Hadley’s upper-voice setting of I sing of a maiden which I loved singing at school.
Happy Christmas.

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