For the listener looking to duplicate the experience of being part of a full, 100-minute Festival of Lessons and Carols in an authentic setting, this album is just the thing. This recording of the entire service, made on Christmas Eve 2008 in the chapel of King's College, Cambridge, omits nothing and includes the complete scripture readings and several prayers along with the music. The ambience is nicely resonant and captures the grandeur of the space, and the sounds of the congregation and the choir standing and sitting are a reminder that this is the real thing, not a studio re-creation of the experience. The musical surges that come when the congregation joins in on the carols seem to bring the listener right into the chapel with the participants. The quality of the musical performances is very high. The choir of men and boys, led by Stephen Cleobury, sings with purity and a warm blend, and its members negotiate the difficulties of the contemporary anthems with confidence and polish. Their dynamic control is especially impressive; they can produce sounds so quiet they are hardly audible, as well as a volume of enveloping power that amply fills the space. The soloists are consistently very fine, singing with sweetness and naturalness. Some works are a cappella and some are adeptly accompanied by organist Peter Stevens. The repertoire is appealingly varied, including familiar carols; classic British anthems by composers like Vaughan Williams, Howells, Thomas Ravenscroft, and Lennox Berkeley; and newer works by John Tavener, Dominic Muldowney, John Rutter, Judith Weir, and Alan Bullard. The readings and prayers, by a good variety of speakers, are very well done, and the listener who only wants the music can easily skip those tracks.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2