New Carols from King’s College

I’m somewhat hard-pressed to think of another choir with as many recordings or as wide repertoire–especially in these hard times for the classical recording industry–as the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. The choir continues its tradition of being among the most-recorded choirs in the world with their latest recording on EMI, On Christmas Day, a compilation of Christmas “carols” (most of us would think of the vast majority of these pieces as “anthems”, because they are largely extended choral works, as opposed to the generally strophic and simple “carols”) commissioned by King’s Choir’s director Stephen Cleobury since he arrived at the Cambridge in 1982. The King’s Choir is noted for their annual “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” broadcast on BBC and worldwide–NPR in the U.S. Each year Mr. Cleobury commissions a new carol from a prominent composer. The composers represented on this two-disc set are the cream of the crop of contemporary music: Peter Maxwell Davies, James MacMillan, Lennox Berkeley, Harrison Birtwistle, Arvo Pärt, Thomsas Adès, Stephen Paulus, Robin Holloway, John Rutter, Jonathan Dove, etc. I am especially fond of Bob Chilcott’s “Shepherd’s Carol” and Stephen Paulus’s “Pilgrim Jesus,” but almost all of the carols can be recommended. The overriding feature of the works on these discs is the incredible virtuosity of the King’s College Choir–their sense of pitch, rhythm and style are unsurpassed. Several of the carols are published (Chilcott and Pärt among them) and are not out of the question for moderately skilled U.S. church choirs. If you want a disc of Christmas music that is out of the ordinary, this is the one I’m recommending for this year.

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