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The tradition of Christmas carols is as old as Christianity itself and has given rise to many other related holiday traditions. The English have been instrumental in the evolution of carols and caroling, uniting them and Biblical Lessons into programs (as Benjamin Britten did in A Ceremony of Carols, for trumpet, voices & harp, Op. 28 in 1942). Over the past two milennia, new pieces have been added to the Christmas canon with confident regularity. Again, the British have been at the forefront of this evolution, with Christmas standards being provided by everyone from Thomas Tallis and John Taverner to John Rutter and John Tavener.
With respect to this, Naxos Records took a forward-looking step, commissioning an Advent Sequence of Carols from Antony Pitts and his very talented group, Tonus Peregrinus. Pitts took his commission—and using 23 canonical carols and one of his his own, rearranged them, re-realized them, and grouped them into four sequences, each focusing on a different portion of the Christmas story. These arrangements are intended for widespread use and are available online and, for the most part, do not stray from the soprano, alto, tenor, baritone paradigm.
The four sequences are divided on thematic lines. "The Hope" is made up of five carols highlighting the thematic dichotomy of Advent—the hope of the Messiah and the glory to Reign. "The Message" is comprised of seven carols announcing Christ’s conception and birth. The six carols of "The Baby" sequence detail Luke’s Second Chapter account of the birth, while the final "King of Kings" focuses on adoration of the Divine. Collectively, this sequence of carols is almost an assembled oratorio, expertly dissolved in the Spirit.
Maestro Pitts’ arrangements never stray too far from the collective unconscious, but there are several startling reworkings. "The Holly and the Ivy" juxtaposes the original melody with one of earlier and simpler origin. "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Silent Night" provided new harmonies above and beyond the standard to great effect. Pitts shows the same harmonic courage as his predecessors Tallis and Wright and later, Walton and Holst. And, indeed, it is Antony Pitts’ informed scoring and composition that makes this set the treasure it is. This is perhaps best illustrated in the fourth sequence in the fabulously angular readings "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Good King Wenceslas." The Naxos Book of Carols makes a superb addition to the holiday carol canon.
This and all pieces published in December 2003 are dedicated to my late father, Norman L. Bailey (1915-2003).
Track Listing: The Hope
1. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (?13th-Century Arranged by Antony Pitts)
2. Of The Father's Heart Begotten (Piae Cantiones, 1582 Arranged by Antony Pitts)
3. O Quickly Come (Theophany, Antony Pitts)
4. Verbum Patris Umanatur, O, O (?13th-Century Arranged by Antony Pitts)
5. Lo! He Comes (Thomas Olivers, Martin Madan Arranged by Antony Pitts)
6. The Holly And The Ivy (Coll. Cecil J. Sharp & Antony Pitts, Arranged by Antony Pitts)
7. Lo, There A Rose Is Blooming (?Praetorius Arranged by Antony Pitts)
8. Alleluya - A New Work (English, 15th-Century Arranged by Antony Pitts)
9. Ding! Dong! Merrily On High (Jehan Tabourot Arranged by Antony Pitts)
10. While Shepherds Watched (Christopher Tye, George Kirbye Arranged by Antony Pitts)
11. The Song Of Angels (Orlando Gibbons Arranged by Antony Pitts)
12. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Felix Mendelssohn Arranged by Antony Pitts)
13. Silent Night (Franz Xaver Gruber Arranged by Antony Pitts)
14. Away In A Manger (William J. Kirkpatrick Arranged by Antony Pitts)
15. Baby Jesus, Hush! Now Sleep (Czech Trad. Arranged by Antony Pitts)
16. O Little Town Of Bethlehem (John Michael Pitts Arranged by Antony Pitts)
17. Jesu, The Very Thought Is Sweet (17th-Century, Figured J.S.Bach Realized by Antony Pitts)
18. O Come, All Ye Faithful (Coll.? John Francis Wade Arranged by Antony Pitts)
The King Of Kings
19. Personent Hodie (Piae Cantiones, 1582 Arranged by Antony Pitts)
20. In Dulci Jubilo (Michael Praetorius, J.S.Bach, John Stainer Arranged by Antony Pitts)
21. Good King Wenceslas (Piae Cantiones, 1582 Arranged by Antony Pitts)
22. We Three Kings Of Orient Are (John Henry Hopkins Arranged by Antony Pitts)
23. I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In (English Trad. Arranged by Antony Pitts)
24. Hail To The Lord's Anointed (Camden, Antony Pitts)