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A New World Christmas: Twentieth Century Masters, Piffaro, The Renaissance Band and Stephen Chatman

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The "New World" here is not only America but the post-19th century. Great Britain is most responsible for the expansion of the holiday canon in the 20th century with music by Holst, Vaughn Williams, Finzi, Howells and Warlock. The American side of the pond is fortunate to have two composers with big ideas regarding Christmas fare, even it their efforts weren't directed as such. Minnesota native-cum Canadian composer Stephen Chatman provides new music as well as new wine skins for more familiar music, while Kile Smith writes modern ecclesiastical music for a certain Renaissance Band popular for much older musics.

Julian Doyal, Roderick Williams, City of London Choir, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Hilary Davan Wetton

In Terra Pax: A Christmas Anthology

Naxos

2009

Naxos Records possesses a catalog so large, diverse and complete that the label can assemble a collection for any occasion. They have done so with several recent holiday releases. But not this one. In Terra Pax: A Christmas Anthology celebrates the best of Britain with choral music from the 20th century. There is much here that is recapitulation of older forms, but that is fine. Holst's "Christmas Day" is a tunefest that spans 500 years. Joubert's "There is no Rose" is more contemporary, brief and beautiful, like Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus." William Mathias' "Sir Christmas" has a modern sound that is reminiscent of Sir John Tavener's choral work.

Herbert Howells' style falls between the old and new. His "Here Is a Little Door" and "A Spotless Rose" have both seen increased coverage in collections in recent years. The work of Peter Warlock is a kind of revelation. A friend of Vaughan Williams who dealt in miniatures, Warlock's "Three Carols" are supple and rich, ranging from the plaintive soprano to full orchestra with brass. John Rutter has become a mainstay in the Christmas music business, providing here "What Sweeter Music," capably sung by the City of London Choir with spare accompaniment. This is a stirring performance.

Hilary Davan Wetton expertly guides his various assemblies through this modern Christmas collection with an eye (and an ear) on palpable fidelity and sonics. The recording sparkles sharply while at the same time glows with a warm relief. Soprano Julia Doyle and baritone Roderick Williams rise to the holidays with grace and panache, making In Terra Pax: A Christmas Anthology the best conceived collection of the 2009 holiday Season.

Visit Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on the web.

Piffaro: The Renaissance Band and The Crossing

Vespers

Navona Records

2008

The origin of Vespers was as a commission by the popular American Renaissance Band, Piffaro, and the vocal ensemble The Crossing of Philadelphia composer Kile Smith. Vespers a modern setting of the traditional Vespers liturgy from German Lutheran tradition for chorus and period instruments. The piece was given its world premiere in 2008 by Piffaro and The Crossing under the direction of the latter's Donald Nally in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia.

While not strictly a holiday recording, Smith does recast older texts previously set to music, including "Wie Schon Leuchtet der Morganstern" and "Herr Christ der Einig Gotts Sohn." Smith's musical settings are crafted in such a way that techniques and practices from different periods dissolve into one another in the solution of his musical vision. The early music elements of this music are amplified by Piffaro and the Renaissance Band's expert and well-known sound. The vocal ensemble, The Crossing, lends the modern edge to the performances, capable of spanning five centuries of vocal practice from plainchant to the 21st century.

The true genius here is the composer, who chooses not to simply reharmonize older music, but instead, create completely new music. This is truly old wine in new wineskins that does not spoil. This music is immediately accessible for the novice and expert alike, offering different layers artistry to be enjoyed. The charm resides in the old and new existing side by side. Piffaro is uniformly fine and The Crossing is a group to watch.

Visit Piffaro / The Renaissance Band on the web.

University of British Columbia Singers, Bruce Pullen

A Chatman Christmas: Choral Music of Stephen Chatman

Canadian Music Center

2008

Stephen Chatman has been the Professor and Department Head of the Composition Division at The University of British Columbia, Vancouver since 1976. The composer was born in Faribault, Minnesota in 1950. He studied with Joseph Wood and Walter Aschaffenburg at the Oberlin Conservatory and with Ross Lee Finney, Leslie Bassett, William Bolcom, and Eugene Kurtz at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where he completed his D.M.A. degree in 1977. Chatman has devoted a good deal of his time to choral composition, incorporating an array of styles and periods. A Chatman Christmas: Choral Music of Stephen Chatman is the fruit of such attention.

A Chatman Christmas presents pieces commissioned of Chatman or composed by him between 1988 and 2008. For Texts, Chatman draws from a deep library. "A Cradle Song" is built around William Blake's poem of the same title. "The Falcon Carol" is based on an ancient English carol text thought to have been composed in the 15th century. Chatman's settings are contemporary New World, smelling of frankincense. They are full of flowing lines possessing the warmth of a hearth fire on a snow solstice. Chatman, like Kile Smith, can evoke Old World ambiance from modern forms.

Chatman's setting for traditional carols, "Christmas Joy," makes for a dandy holiday songfest that includes "Good King Wenceslas," "Here We Come A'wassailing," "O Come O Come, Emanuel" and "Lo How a Rose." The collection features Stephen Smith on organ, supported by Touch of Brass. A Chatman Christmas is a fine contemporary holiday collection that deserves to stand above the majority of releases in this genre.

Visit Stephen Chatman on the web.


Tracks and Personnel

In Terra Pax: A Christmas Anthology

Tracks: Christmas Day; There is no Rose, Op. 14; Sir Christemas; Here is the little door; A Spotless Rose; In terra pax, Christmas Scene, Op. 39; 3 Carols: No. 1.; 3 Carols: No. 2.; 3 Carols: No. 3.; A Hymn of the Nativity; What sweeter music; Tomorrow shall be my dancing day; Folksongs of the 4 Seasons: Winter: I. Children's Christmas song; Folksongs of the 4 Seasons: Winter: II. Wassail song; Folksongs of the 4 Seasons: Winter: III. In Bethlehem city; Folksongs of the 4 Seasons: Winter: IV. God bless the Master.

Personnel: Mark Williams: organ; Roderick Williams: baritone; Julian Davies: tenor; Simon Oberst: baritone; Lydia Challen: contralto; Ben Glassberg: tambourine; City of London Choir; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Hilary Davan Wetton.

Vespers, Kile Smith

Tracks: Veni Sancte Spiritus; Hymn: Wie Schon Leuchtet Der Morgenstern; Introit: Psalm 70; Sonata A 5: Steht Auf, Ihr Lieben Kinderlein; Psalm 27; Sonata A 5: In Dir Ist Freude; Psalm 113; Sonata A 7: O Ssser Here Jesu Christ; Hymn: Her Christ, Der Einig Gotts Sohn; Magnificat; Vater Unser; Triple Canon: Nun Danket All Und Bringet Her; Deo Gratias.

Personnel: Piffaro, The Renaissance Band: Grant Herreid: lute, theorbo, guitar, shawm; Greg Ingles: sackbut, recorder; Joan Kimball: recorder, shawm, dulcian; Christa Patton: shawm, harp, recorder; Priscilla Smith: recorder, shawm, dulcian; Robert Wiemken: recorder, shawm, dulcian; Tom Zajac: recorder, sackbut. The Crossing: Karen Rogers Blanchard, Veronica Chapman-Smith, Rebecca Siler, Shari Akise Wilson: sopranos; Erin Jeanette, Maren Montalbano, Rebecca Oehlers, Susan Polack, Erin Westmaas, Rebecca Whitlow: altos; Steven Bradshaw, Micha Dingler, Jeff Densmore, Steven Ziegler: tenors; Brian Ming Chu, Levi Hernadez, Matthew Hoch, Rob Phillips, Lourin Plant, Daniel Spratlan: basses..

A Chatman Christmas: Choral Music of Stephen Chatman

Tracks: Love Came Down at Christmas; Little Child in a Manger; A Cradle Song; The Falcon Carol; Make a Wish for me on Christmas; Carols of the Nativity; Voices in the Mist Lullay My Liking; Shepherds, Rejoice!; Sterling Bells; Christmas Joy; Jumalisten Joucko; Lo in a Manger; The Star-Song.

Personnel: University of British Columbia Singers, Bruce Pullen; Heidi Krutzen: harp; Stephen Smith: piano, organ; Quennie Wong: percussion.


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