Archive for the ‘CDs’ Category

Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity


Gerald Finley, baritone
Ruth Holton, soprano
Nicholas Sears, baritone
The Cambridge Singers, City of London Sinfonia / John Rutter CBE

Collegium COLCD 106
63 min 35 sec, DDD  (Full libretto provided)

Five stars

This is what Christmas music really is:  Beautifully worshipful compositions reflecting upon the birth of Christ, and nothing less.  And because some of John Rutter’s own music is here, it also serves as a unique, tangible profession of his faith.  If you don’t have any of John Rutter’s other CDs, buy thiChristmas Night: Carols of the Nativitys one and let it be your springboard to purchasing his other recordings.

The highly-respected John Rutter (b. 1945, London) is primarily a composer and conductor, known for writing choral music on both small and grand scales.  In the mid-1970s, he was Director of Music at Clare College, where he had been a student and whose choir he directed in broadcasts and recordings.  He gave up his post there to compose his own music and to form the Cambridge Singers as a professional chamber choir primarily dedicated to recording.  Likewise, he started Collegium Records to present his recordings.  This one, like his others, contains the text, composition and arrangement credits for and excellent historical notes about each track.

The Cambridge Singers’ performance here is somewhere between flawless and outstanding, faithfully captured by engineer Campbell Hughes and producer Jillian White.  The reduced number of musicians here is entirely appropriate; there is no loud fanfare or bombast, and therein lies one of the endearing qualities of this disc, because Rutter programmed so thoughtfully and carefully.  Fifteen a capella pieces are punctuated by seven with orchestral accompaniment, more than ably provided here by Rutter’s frequent collaborators, the City of London Sinfonia.

Among the a capella highlights on this disc are the two opening tracks, beginning with the familiar German carol in dulci jubilo, arranged here by Robert Lucas Pearsall.  The 15th century Adam lay ybounden has been set to music several times; Rutter chose the one by legendary English choirmaster and organist Boris Ord.  Herbert Howells’ setting of A spotless rose is a fine example of the wonderful British flavor on this disc, echoed by the two Charles Wood arrangements, Once as I remember and A virgin most pure.  There is also a particularly beautiful J.S. Bach arrangement of Samuel Scheidt’s carol O little one sweet.  Rutter’s setting of There is a flower features soprano soloist Ruth Holton, who delivers a very enjoyable balance between the boy-chorister characteristic and her own feminine voice.

There are four particularly beautiful collaborations between choir and strings here:  Dr. Harold Darke’s In the bleak mid-winter has remained very popular in Great Britain over the last few decades in part because of the gentle arrangement and because Christina Rossetti’s text considers Christ’s birth with a child-like simplicity.  Sir Richard R. Terry’s lovely and dignified Myn lyking is a Tudor-flavored setting of a 15th century text.  The segue from the violins to the women choristers entering the first verse evidences Terry’s thoughtful string scoring, duplicated later by the celli and the men.  John Rutter adapted a melody from Thoinot Arbeau’s late-16th century Orchésographie and wrote lyrics and a new score, nicely resulting in this disc’s title track.

Especially deserving of your attention is Patrick Hadley’s quietly sparkling I sing of a maiden; Hadley’s brilliant vocal scoring and gorgeous supporting orchestration remind of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, flowing beautifully and seamlessly between phrases.  Given a superlative performance here by the Singers and Sinfonia, this might be the best track on the disc.

Two other notable Rutter works are here too, reminiscent of both a “contemporary” style and that which sounds at least a hundred years older – testimony to Rutter’s compositional abilities.  Among the former is his 1984 Candlelight carol, and representing the latter is the final track on the CD, his 1963 Nativity carol, both accompanied by the City of London Sinfonia.  As with the Patrick Hadley, Nativity carol epitomizes the celebration of Christmas:  Quiet, worshipful and eloquently simple reflection upon the birth of Christ, beautifully enough to bring tears to your eyes.

My recommendation here is awfully simple:  Buy this CD.  Five stars, and “desert island” status for this recording.


  1. In dulci Jubilo  (3:12)
    14th century German carol
    transl. and arr. R.L. Pearsall (1795-1856)
  2. Adam lay ybounden  (1:07)
    text, 15th century
    Boris Ord (1897-1961)
  3. Christmas Night  (4:00)
    Thoinot Arbeau (16th cent)
    text and arr, John Rutter (1945-)
  4. Once, as I remember  (2:28)
    text, G.R. Woodward (1848-1934)
    music, Italian 17th cent
    arr. Charles Wood (1866-1926)
  5. A spotless Rose  (2:45)
    text, 14th century
    music, Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
  6. In the bleak mid-winter  (4:32)
    text, Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)
    music, Dr. Harold Darke (1888-1976)
  7. There is a flower
    text, John Audelay (15th cent)
    music, John Rutter (1945-)
  8. The cherry tree carol  (4:04)
    English traditional carol
    arr. Sir David Willcocks
  9. I wonder as I wander  (2:52)
    Appalachian carol
    coll. John Jacob Niles
    arr. John Rutter (1945-)
  10. Candlelight carol  (4:06)
    John Rutter (1945-)
  11. O Tannenbaum  (1:58)
    text, Ernst Anschutz (1824)
    German traditional melody
    arr. John Rutter (1945-)
  12. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day  (1:55)
    English traditional carol
    arr. Sir David Willcocks
  13. A virgin most pure  (2:38)
    English traditional carol
    arr. Charles Wood (1866-1926)
  14. I sing of a maiden  (2:54)
    text, 15th century
    music, Patrick Hadley (1899-1973)
  15. Lute-book lullaby  (2:05)
    William Ballet (17th cent)
    arr. Geoffrey Shaw
  16. The three kings  (2:16)
    Peter Cornelius (1824-1874)
    arr. Ivor Atkins (1869-1953)
  17. Myn lyking  (2:35)
    text, 15th century
    music, Sir Richard R. Terry (1865-1938)
  18. O little one sweet  (3:15)
    Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654)
    arr. J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
  19. All my heart this night rejoices  (2:12)
    text, Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)
    transl, Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)
    music, Johann Georg Ebeling (1637-1676)
  20. I saw a maiden  (2:52)
    text, 15th century
    Basque Noël
    arr. Edgar Pettman (1865-1943)
  21. Away in a manger  (2:12)
    text, published 1865
    music, W.I. Kirkpatrick (1832-1921)
    arr. John Rutter (1945-)
  22. Nativity carol  (4:20)
    John Rutter (1945-)

Kalinnikov: Symphonies 1 & 2


CHAN 9546 CD cover

Vassily Kalinnikov: Symphonies 1 & 2
Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Neeme Järvi
Chandos CHAN 9546, DDD
Symphony No. 1  (37:37)
Symphony No. 2  (37:33)

This writer feels that had Vasily Sergeyevich Kalinnikov not died of tuberculosis two days before his thirty-fifth birthday, we would be mentioning him alongside people like Rachmaninov, Lyadov, and the mighty “Russian Five” (Rimsky-Korsakov, Moussorgsky, Borodin, Balakirev, and Cui).  His two symphonies can be very favorably compared to those from the aforementioned, especially when you consider that Kalinnikov got his music education on the cheap.

Kalinnikov was born January 13, 1866 in Voina, in Russia’s Oryol District, to a very poor family.  From this village, Kalinnikov received a scholarship to Moscow’s Philharmonic Society School, but his family’s poverty forced him to leave school and make a living playing violin, bassoon and timpani in theatre orchestras.  Semyon Kruglikov is possibly even more obscure than Kalinnikov, but scholars of Russian music rightfully point out the significance of this important music critic and teacher.  Kruglikov took notice of Kalinnikov, taught him harmony, and introduced him to other musicians.  Tchaikovsky found for Kalinnikov the conductor’s job at the Maly Theatre in Moscow and later a similar job at the Moscow Italian Theatre, but it was in 1899 that Kalinnikov contracted tuberculosis and had no choice but to resign and move to the warmer climate in the Crimea.  This is where Kalinnikov wrote most of his music before he died at Yalta in January of 1901.

Kalinnikov’s symphonies — especially his first — are as full of Russian character as the music of his contemporaries, especially The Five, in that they follow very much the same structure and flavor and also suggest Brahms’ and Rachmaninov’s use of dynamics and thematic development, and Tchaikovsky’s use of rhythm.  The distinguishing feature in both works is Kalinnikov’s creative changes and modulation, since they wind up in unexpected – but entirely listenable – keys.  Kalinnikov was especially effective in weaving various themes together without consuming excessive amounts of time.

Kalinnikov’s beautiful sense of melody is evident in the slow movements of both symphonies, particularly the serene Andante commodamente in the first symphony, where the supporting orchestration is sublime and never out-of-character.  A lovely passage occurs toward the end of the andante cantabile in the second symphony when the celli take the melody, then hand off to the violins, winds and harp during a descending pattern, closing the movement in a fashion that echoes the melancholy of Rachmaninov and reeks wonderfully of Russian flavor.  This is as enjoyable for musicians as it is for listeners, and here Järvi and the RSNO treat this beautifully and flawlessly.  The Andante commodamente might be the best part of the disc; the music will probably stay in your head long after you turn off your CD player.

The third movements in both works feature strongly-flavored folk dances, punctuated by several fortissimo bursts from the orchestra and winding up with forceful flourishes, played here to the proper effect by the RSNO.  Dvořák probably would have been very pleased.

The final movement of Kalinnikov’s first symphony is more towering and creative than its counterpart from #2; the oboe melody from the second movement gets new life in the concluding theme, back-loaded not only with strong brass parts but with flavorful use of percussion.  It is as majestic as the Finale of Rachmaninov’s second symphony, but is perhaps more memorable because Kalinnikov weaves his themes and makes his points without consuming nearly as much time and effort as does Mr. “Six-Feet-of-Gloom.”

The RSNO have produced many fine recordings, and this one is no exception.  It’s not totally perfect; the first symphony includes wonderful E-flat and G-Major sequences in the Finale where the violins play 16th-notes underneath powerful chords from the brass, and while they stay together, the entire violin section gets slightly disjointed from the brass.  This may be a result of the acoustics in Glasgow’s Henry Wood Hall, however.  In this writer’s opinion, Neeme Järvi should have taken a slightly slower tempo here.  One of the RSNO cellists also let slip a stray A-string during the third movement of that same work.

Don’t let any of these quibbles turn you away; this is really a solid compilation that will likely send you searching for recordings of Kalinnikov’s other works.  This disc is a result of Chandos taking the first symphony from their CHAN 8611 release and the second from CHAN 8805.  If you can manage to find these two CDs still available, you’ll also obtain recordings of Kalinnikov’s last-ever composition, the lovely symphonic picture The Cedar and the Palm and his Overture to Tsar Boris, as well as two tone poems by Alexander Glazunov.  The two discs may still be available from Chandos and/or other on-line sources and are well-worth the trouble of looking.  Nevertheless, the RSNO’s performance here is very enjoyable – a CD definitely worth the purchase.