Edward Higginbottom leads the Choir of New College Oxford in a solid performance of A Ceremony of Carols and a selection of British Christmas anthems. In the Britten, he offers a traditional approach in terms of tempos, and while he avoids the eccentricities and distortions that some directors perpetrate on the piece in trying to bring new light to it, he also misses the subtle spark that can make a performance transcendent. But in a work with so many possible pitfalls, a solid, technically secure, and musically sensitive reading is not to be taken lightly. The soloists are particularly fine, and their intonation and enunciation are exemplary. Harpist Frances Kelly finds just the right balance for a part that can easily be over- or underplayed; the instrumental underpinning at the end of There is no rose is beautifully audible, and the Interlude strikes an ideal tone of subdued reverence. The choir's tone quality is generally good, except that in the upper register, the boys' voices tend to sound shrill, a problem that's not helped by the engineering. The anthems, many of which are relatively unfamiliar, give the album considerable interest. Herbert Howells' Long, long ago sounds startlingly modern, especially coming from a composer frequently associated with Edwardian fustiness, and the full choir manages its alternately tart and ripe harmonies with assurance. The group brings the same confidence and expertise to works by Holst, Richard Rodney Bennett, Kenneth Leighton, Peter Warlock, John Joubert, H. Diack Johnstone, Herbert Kennedy Andrews, Andrew Carter, and Peter Wishart. The sound is clear, but lacks warmth or much sense of ambience.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|A Ceremony of Carols, for treble voices (or chorus) & harp, Op. 28|
|Old English Carols (4), for chorus & piano, Op. 20b, H. 82|