The Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, is not one of the more well-known English collegiate groups, but under director Geoffrey Webber it has carved out a niche, exploring unfamiliar repertories, often non-British. To take on the challenge of material central to the French late Romantic era, as the Choir and conductor Geoffrey Webber do here, may seem cheeky for an English group, but this makes it all the more impressive when they succeed. The program is beautifully constructed, with a mixture of organ and piano accompaniments, and the album was recorded not at Gonville & Caius but at Exeter College, Oxford, because of the ringing French-style organ there. Several of these pieces have fed into the common stock of Christmas carols, giving the album the feel of discovering what made these tunes famous (including the final Noël d'enfants, otherwise known as Angels we have heard on high, arranged by Fauré, and the Portuguese Hymn (aka Adeste fideles, in a version by Gounod). Sample the 40 Noëls Anciens, traditional songs arranged by Léon Roques: they are not such familiar melodies, at least outside France, but they're lovely. Most of all, though, it's the sheer sound of the choir that makes this work. You might think that such a thing would result from a long accretion of tradition, but Webber makes his choir into a remarkable facsimile of a Parisian church choir, with a big round sound, making room for sheer lyricism in place of English purity. He, along with Delphian's engineers, balance all the musical lines beautifully. A joyous, fresh holiday release.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|L'enfance du Christ, Op. 25|
|Oratorio de Noël, Op. 12|
|40 noëls anciens|
|Duos (6), for soprano, alto & piano, FWV 89|
|Noël au village|