Following on from our previous articles sharing music we like to listen to more generally, I thought I’d share a few of our favourite Christmas CDs that are brought out each December and enjoyed in the founders’ household!
Mandy Prior & The Carnival Band - Vaughan Williams Carols, Songs & Hyms.
Maddy Prior, a musician perhaps best known for her work with Steeleye Span, is also part of a group called ‘The Carnival Band’, who focus on exploring early English music. For Christmas of 2010, they released this album, Vaughan Williams Carols, Songs & Hymns to share Williams’ folk-influenced arrangements of traditional carols, folk songs and hymns. These include ever popular hymns such as Come Down O Love Divine and At the Name of Jesus, some more unusual settings of poems such as William Morris’ Snow in the Street and Blake’s Cradle Song, and the enduring rural song Linden Lea. This has been a popular Christmas album in our household for many years now, so it evokes a lot of Christmas related memories and feelings as well as having some lovely songs. One of my favourite is the Drinking Song, an anonymous 16th Century folk song exploring losing one’s appetite with age yet retaining the enjoyment of ‘Jolly good ale and old’.
Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Moving on from Maddy Prior, but not from Vaughan Williams (you may be noticing a pattern here!), we have Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols. Written in 1912 for the Three Choirs Festival, Hereford, and scored for baritone soloist, chorus, full orchestra and organ (although the version I am listening to now is one of Williams’ revised scores accompanied by just strings and organ) the Fantasia is based on four popular carols, This is the Truth Sent From Above, Come All You Worthy Gentlemen, On Christmas Night All Christians Sing, and God Bless the Ruler of This House, with small quotes and snippets from other carols interspersed. What is particularly special about this piece to us however, is that four of our family members, including both Expressive Audio founders, performed this piece in Portsmouth Cathedral a few Christmases ago. Aside from that, it is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and skilfully arranged festive medleys to be heard, and was described by the late music critic Frank Howes as ‘this most happy and beautiful, hearty and mystical Christmas music.’
Verbum Caro Factum Est - Portsmouth Cathedral Choir
This CD again is particularly close to our hearts as both my sister and I were part of Portsmouth Cathedral Choir when it was recorded, as were a few of my peers at school, so it is both a lovely collection of carols and hymns and a nice memory to look back on our time rehearsing and recording (well before Christmas I might add!). The CD includes, amongst other carols such as I Saw Three Ships and On Christmas Night, one of my favourite arrangements of one of my favourite carols, Gaudete. On various occasions, I have listened to, sung, and played percussion for this fantastic arrangement by Luke Fitzgerald, who wrote the arrangement while as an organ scholar at Portsmouth Grammar School, and having also performed and listened to a number of other arrangements, still maintain this is the only one people need listen to.
Sing Choirs of Angels - Traditional Carols and Christmas Music
This collection of traditional choirs and hymns has been a regular Christmas favourite at our house for as long as I can remember, and I can’t help but feel festive when the CD disappears inside the player and the first bars of The Angel Gabriel fill our drawing room, especially when we all join in with the ever amusing misheard lyric ‘most highly flavoured gravy’. The album includes other well known carols such as We Three Kings of Orient Are and the rather gory Coventry Carol, but the one that has the most sentimental value to me at least is Past Three O’Clock, a traditional English carol based on the call of the London Waits. It is performed beautifully here, and is one of the pieces of music I have the earliest Christmas memories associated with. Unfortunately, I cannot find an online recording of the same arrangement, so here is the Genesis Sixteen performing it in December 2019.
Hodie - The Portsmouth Grammar School
Although I would like to share at least twice as many Christmas CDs, I feel it is prudent for both the reader’s and my sanity just to mention one more. Hodie is the only professionally recorded, and commercially available CD of the Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir, and although it was recorded in 2014, before my tenure in the choir, I feel a certain affinity with it that makes it a regular disc during the Christmas period. Although still very much a choral Christmas CD, this one is less folky than some of my other favourites, and features some more well known carols such as Silent Night, In the Bleak Midwinter, and Ding Dong! Merrily On High, all sung beautifully, and recorded in top notch quality by Convivium Records.