A Choral Christmas

£12.00

A leading light in the world of youth choral music, the Rodolfus Choir is made up of choristers from ages 16-25 who are past and present participants of the Eton Choral Courses, begun by the choir’s director Ralph Allwood in 1980. 

This new Christmas programme mixes the familiar with works not usually heard in carol services – such as Tomas Luis de Victoria’s stunning eight-part, two-choir Ave Maria (from an edition prepared by John Rutter), and more recent works such as Chris Chivers’ Ecce Puer and Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque. Such a programme is well-suited to a choir with the versatility and enthusiasm of the Rodolfus choir. 

SKU: SIGCD257

What people are saying

"The freshness of attack you get with younger voices is put to incisive use by conductor Ralph Allwood, whose Rodolfus singers are all products of the famous Eton choral courses. Parry’s Welcome, Yule! can seldom have had a more sheerly ebullient performance, but the choir also brings formidable precision of pitching and ensemble to quieter settings …" BBC Music Magazine, November 2012

"… the sweet/sour harmonies of Warlock’s Bethlehem Down are so deliciously balanced that it is difficult not to leap up from the fireside and press the backtrack button to hear this magical performance over and over again." International Record Review, November 2012

Rodolfus Choir

Ralph Allwood director

Release date:27th Aug 2012
Order code:SIGCD257
Barcode: 635212025727

December 2012

From Signum comes A Choral Christmas, a fine collection of largely unfamiliar seasonal music from the Rodolfus Choir conducted by Ralph Allwood, who has recently stepped down after 26 years as Eton’s director of music.

His choir are youngsters, aged between 16 and 25, who applied for choral scholarships at the college. Their discipline and diction throughout a testing programme is exemplary. 

The Daily Mail, David Mellor

December 2012

This beautifully sung sequence ranges through 500 years of Christmas music, with a bias towards the 20th century and some of the exquisite carols and anthems composed by the likes of Vaughan Williams, Holst, Morten Lauridsen and John Tavener. The mood is one of quiet reflection rather than overt jubilation, although Parry’s Welcome, Yule! and Tavener’s rhythmically punchy Today the Virgin are exceptions. but there is a broad spectrum of texts and technique to lend the programme stylistic variety.

The Daily Telegraph

November 2012

For smooth, refined, effortless and warmly communicative singing this Christmas, you probably need look no further than this disc of somewhat less than mainstream Christmas music from the ever-impressive Rodolfus Choir. Under Ralph Allwood it has developed a sound which suppresses all the rough edges and glimpses of youthful enthusiasm you might have expected from a choir of three dozen 16-to-25 year-olds, in the pursuit of musical quality and a gloriously homogenous tone. In some repertoire the singing can seem a shade too polished and over-prepared for its own good, but for the most part the programme works extremely well, and if it is the fate of this CD to provide the aural equivalent of a soft, candlelit glow, then it seems ideally suited to the task. 

This is, of course, seriously to understate the very fine quality of many of these performances. Some splendid solo voices emerge from the texture with ease and assurance, four particularly notable ones – Emily Burnett, Anna Leon, Tara Mansfield and James Way – adding distinction to a lovingly shaped account of Hoist’s Lullay my liking. Of particular note is Emily Kirby-Ashmore, whose fluid soprano wafts effortlessly above the gentle choral texture of Leighton’s gorgeous Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child, and adds an enchanting point of focus above the atmospherically glowing, if rather aimlessly meandering chords of Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque. Mostly slow and reflective – which suits the choral sound admirably – the two more upbeat items, Parry’s exuberant Welcome, Yule! and Tavener’s surprisingly animated Today the Virgin, give the singers a rare chance to slip the leash. Yet while there is exuberance here, it is strictly disciplined and restrained, with the result that the even tenor of the overall programme is barely ruffled. The programme itself is designed to counter these nineteenth and twentieth-century carols – which mostly manage to sidestep the syrupy (if only by a hair’s breadth – Philip Radcliffe’s The Oxen keeps us on our toes only by its strangely angular movement through unconnected keys) – with a sprinkling of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century gems; although Daniel Jaffe’s booklet notes probably try too hard to forge links between the likes of Byrd and Palestrina with Warlock and Holst. 

Generally the Rodolfus’s smooth tone does little to characterize these earlier works and, from the softly murmuring opening of Lullaby, my sweet little baby, it sounds dangerously as if it is trying to create an aura of antiquity rather than expose the glories of Byrd’s unique genius. Thomas Ravenscroft’s Remember, O thou man, a somewhat incongruous addition to the Christmas fare, smothers the promised ‘crushed note effect’ with so much velvety softness that, for all the ominous shades in its text, it sounds more comfortable than comforting, while the very gentleness of the choir’s singing substantially dilutes the vivid antiphonal.

There are few such reservations with any of the later carols. I do find the romp through Elizabeth Poston’s lovely Jesus Christ the Apple Tree a shade breathless and, while it is a sheer delight to hear Tchaikovsky’ s ‘The Crown of Roses‘ delivered with such unaffected simplicity, every word beautifully but unfussily enunciated, how one wishes for a proper Russian bass instead of the rather insipid attempts made here at anchoring down the final cadence. However, the sweet/sour harmonies of Warlock’s Bethlehem Down are so deliciously balanced that it is difficult not to leap up from the fireside and press the backtrack button to hear this magical performance over and over again. 

This might not be a disc of all-time Christmas favourites, but it certainly presents no challenge to the traditional view of Christmas music as aurally undemanding. Even if a cursory look through the track list might not prove uniformly alluring, the singing and the recorded sound most certainly will.

International Record Review, Marc Rochester

December 2012

The freshness of attack you get with younger voices is put to incisive use by conductor Ralph Allwood, whose Rodolfus singers are all products of the famous Eton choral courses. Parry’s Welcome, Yule! can seldom have had a more sheerly ebullient performance, but the choir also brings formidable precision of pitching and ensemble to quieter settings, such as Tavener’s The Lamb and Poulenc’s O Magnum Mysterium. Some of the emotional deepening which comes with vocal maturity is occasionally missing, but there are many qualities here that compensate.

Performance and Recording  

BBC Music Magazine, Terry Blain

  1. Lully, lulla – Kenneth Leighton – 3.27
  2. The Oxen – Philip Radcliffe – 2.43
  3. Lullaby, my sweet little baby – William Byrd – 6.09
  4. The Lamb – John Tavener – 3.56
  5. Ecce puer – Chris Chivers – 2.04
  6. O magnum mysterium – Morten Lauridsen – 6.46
  7. The truth sent from above – Ralph Vaughan Williams – 2.59
  8. Lux Aurumque – Eric Whitacre – 3.57
  9. Lullay my liking – Gustav Holst – 3.41
  10. O magnum mysterium – Francis Poulenc – 3.37
  11. O, Do not move – John Tavener – 1.49
  12. Alma redemptoris mater – Giovanni da Palestrina – 2.42
  13. Welcome, Yule! – Hubert Parry – 1.11
  14. Remember, O thou man – Thomas Ravenscroft – 2.27
  15. Jesus Christ the Apple Tree – Elizabeth Poston – 2.59
  16. Ave Maria – Tomas Luis de Victoria – 4.44
  17. The Crown of Roses – Pyotr Tchaikovsky – 2.37
  18. Bethlehem Down – Peter Warlock – 5.12
  19. Today the Virgin – John Tavener – 2.37