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What Sweeter Music
Songs and Carols for ChristmasNigel Short
Tenebrae is a professional chamber choir, founded and directed by Nigel Short in 2001. Often performing by candlelight, the choir creates an atmosphere of spiritual and musical reflection, where medieval chant and renaissance works are interspersed with contemporary compositions. The carefully selected team of singers use the acoustic and atmostphere of the building to enable the audience to experience the power and intimacy of the human voice.
Tenebrae has an exceptionally wide repertoire from early, through renaissance, baroque and classical music, to romantic and twentieth century works, plus a range of specially commissioned pieces, the most recent of which is Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles. What Sweeter Music is a real festive treat, with a sumptuous collection of songs and carols for Christmas - touching on traditional favourites (Silent Night, Away in a Manger), modern classics (The Lamb, What Sweeter Music) and some new light-hearted arrangements (Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas).
What people are saying
“Superbly sung and plenty of fun”
Best Christmas Discs Roundup 2009, The Gramophone
“A jazzy Jingle Bells launches this varied and seductively sung programme”
Geoffrey Norris, Best Christmas Discs 2009, The Telegraph
“an exquisite account of Rutter’s There is a flower”
Classical Music Magazine
Release date: 9th Nov 2009
Order code: SIGCD182
|1.||Jingle Bells||Arr. Ben Parry|
|2.||Silent Night||Franz Gruber, Arr. Jonathan Rathbone|
|3.||What Sweeter Music?||John Rutter|
|4.||A Spotless Rose||Herbert Howells|
|5.||Quem Pastores?||Trad, Arr. Nigel Short|
|6.||Veni, ven||Adrian Peacock|
|7.||There is a Flower||John Rutter|
|9.||The Lamb||John Tavener|
|10.||I Wonder as I Wander||Arr. Andrew Carter|
|11.||Quelle est cette odeur agreable?||French Trad, Arr. David Willcocks|
|12.||We Wish You a Merry Christmas||Arr. Nigel Short|
|13.||The Oxen||Jonathan Rathbone|
|14.||Gaudete||Arr. Karl Jenkins|
|15.||Away in a Manger||Trad, Arr. Nigel Short|
|16.||Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day||Trad, Arr. David Willcocks|
|17.||Nativity Carol||John Rutter|
|18.||The Twelve Days of Christmas||Arr. Andrew Carter|
The Independent, 11th December 2009
This Christmas collection from Nigel Short’s chamber choir Tenebrae is comprised of three strands: traditional carols, festive favourites, and newer pieces including a trio of songs by John Rutter, and Jonathan Rathbone’s setting of Thomas Hardy’s poem The Oxen. Rutter’s title-track perhaps shows off the choir’s tonal blend to best effect, while Karl Jenkins’ arrangement of “Gaudete” brings a brief burst of ebullience amid the piety. Two tracks which set the album apart: the superbly-measured arrangement of the Appalachian folk tune “I Wonder As I Wander”, and Rathbones’ splendid arrangement of “Silent Night”.
Classic FM Magazine, January 2010
The first of many new releases for the Christmas season – and what a fine disc this is. Nigel Short directs the choir Tenebrae in soulful performances of well-known carols, alongside some that may be new discoveries for you. Be prepared to feel thoroughly festive.
The Gramophone Magazine
Fun and Thoughtfulness
The Telegraph, Best Christmas Discs 2009
A jazzy Jingle Bells launches this varied and seductively sung programme, featuring arrangements of Silent Night, Away in a Manger and other favourites, along with 20th"‘century immortals such as Howells’s A Spotless Rose and other more modern seasonal pieces by Adrian Peacock, John Tavener and John Rutter.
There are devotional works here, notably an exquisite account of Rutter’s There is a flower, but the vocal style is warm and crooner-like and stirred through the mix are Short’s breezy arrangements, Ben Parry’s jazzy Jingle Bells, Adrian Peacock’s fidgety Veni, veni and Andrew Carter’s hilarious Twelve Days of Christmas – more apt for partying than prayer.
Phillip Sommerich, Classical Music Magazine
Music-Web International.com, December 2009
Nigel Short and his choir of professional singers, Tenebrae, made their debut on disc with a CD of music for Advent and Christmas, released in 2002, entitled The Dream of Herod (SIGCD046). They return to seasonal music with this CD, most of which is brand new, though a few tracks were recorded a while ago.
The programme is divided, broadly, into three categories. Quite a number of items are modern arrangements of old favourites. Nigel Short himself contributes very pleasing arrangements of Quem Pastores? and Away in a Manger. Both of these are not only effective but seem also to evidence affection for the original carols. Though some may feel the performance of Away in a Manger is rather on the slow side there’s no denying the chaste purity of the setting and the unnamed solo soprano who sings verse one does so exquisitely. Jonathan Rathbone’s arrangement of Silent Night is also very welcome, encasing the familiar tune in slow-moving close harmonies. While enjoying these and other new arrangements of old standards, however, it’s good to find that, just like his descants for popular congregational carols, the arrangements by Sir David Willcocks of Quelle est cette odeur agreeable? and Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day more than stand the test of time.
Mention of Sir David in a Christmas context inevitably leads one to the name of John Rutter. In fact I believe that Sir David was instrumental in starting Rutter off on his immensely successful career by championing Nativity Carol, one of his very earliest Christmas pieces, which he wrote while still a Cambridge undergraduate. Here it is once more, beautifully sung by Tenebrae. Incidentally, though one very often hears it accompanied by orchestra I prefer it with a gentle organ accompaniment - as here - since that reinforces the intimacy of this lovely little carol. Nigel Short has chosen two more Rutter carols, both of which I think are among Rutter’s finest. He and his expert choir give exquisite, controlled performances of What Sweeter Music? and There is a Flower, though I have to say that the former is taken a bit slowly for my taste - I seem to recall that Rutter himself, in his own recording, was just a touch swifter, to the music’s advantage. There is a Flower opens and closes with a solo voice. Previously, in my experience, this has been a treble or soprano but here the solo is allotted to a baritone. Though the singer does well I don’t think the choice quite works; when sung by a male voice the melody - and the words - rather loses the pure innocence that a high voice can bring.
The Rutter items fall into the second category of offerings in this programme: original compositions. We also find Tavener’s The Lamb and Howells’s A Spotless Rose. Both are beautifully done but, though I greatly admire both settings, I do feel that their near-ubiquity in programmes such as this is in danger of devaluing them and making them seem routine. I acknowledge that both are popular items - deservedly so - and that popularity sells discs but it would be nice if choirs remembered that Howells in particular wrote several other fine Christmas settings. By comparison, Adrian Peacock’s Veni, veni is scarcely well known but I hope its exposure here will encourage other choirs to investigate it for it is a good piece that grows in excitement from almost nothing until it reaches an abrupt end.
But if I had to single out one piece deserving of wide currency then I’d unhesitatingly nominate Jonathan Rathbone’s The Oxen. In the booklet Nigel Short describes this as a “ravishing setting” and he’s spot on in that judgement. Rathbone takes Thomas Hardy’s poem and clothes it in wonderful, luminous close harmonies that move gently and slowly. This hushed setting for unaccompanied voices struck me as a superb response to the poem and when I played the disc for the first time I replayed this item immediately on hearing it. I just regret that it’s followed immediately on the disc by the necessarily boisterous Gaudete, which rather breaks the spell that Rathbone has cast.
The third category of music in the programme accommodates the lighter, secular pieces. Jingle Bells is presented in a clever, jazzy arrangement and Nigel Short’s version of We Wish You a Merry Christmas is also effective. Best of the three items in this category, I think, is Andrew Carter’s The Twelve Days of Christmas. This is ingenious and entertaining, though I’ll reserve judgement on the farmyard noises that the singers contribute, presumably at Carter’s behest.
Tenebrae perform these three secular items with evident relish and, indeed, the technical accomplishment that’s in evidence throughout this recital is of the highest order. They bring an effortless excellence to all their singing and deliver the entire programme with supreme professionalism and a good deal of commitment. I can see this disc giving a lot of pleasure this Christmas; I shall certainly be listening to it with great enjoyment during the Festive Season.
The Independent, December 2009
This Christmas collection from Nigel Short's chamber choir Tenebrae is comprised of three strands: traditional carols, festive favourites, and newer pieces including a trio of songs by John Rutter, and Jonathan Rathbone's setting of Thomas Hardy's poem The Oxen.
Rutter's title-track perhaps shows off the choir's tonal blend to best effect, while Karl Jenkins' arrangement of "Gaudete" brings a brief burst of ebullience amid the piety. Two tracks which set the album apart: the superbly-measured arrangement of the Appalachian folk tune "I Wonder As I Wander", and Rathbone's splendid arrangement of "Silent Night".