This week's Full Rotation: Album of the Week offers a unique collection of 23 hymns and carols sung by the the men and boys of The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford.
In existence in since the fifteenth century, the Choir of Magdalen College is one of the oldest choirs in England. Led by Bill Ives of the King’s Singers, the group has retained the same composition as it had in Henry VI’s day, with 16 boy choristers and 12 adult Academical Clerks (undergraduates at Oxford). Their timeless sound perfectly suits both the overlooked gems and familiar melodies here.
Instead of being organized chronologically, Carols by Candlelight is divided into five thematic sections: The Fall, Good Tidings, The Annunciation, The Birth of Jesus, and Epiphany. Within these are some striking juxtapositions. Two works by Palestrina, the pensive "I look from afar" and the upbeat "Rorate Coelli," give way to John Stainer's charming Victorian hymn "How Beautiful Upon the Mountains." Later, Britten's heartfelt "Hymn to the Virgin," segues to Vaughan Williams' lilting "The Blessed Son of God," followed by Robert Pearsall's rich eight-part setting of the German medieval carol "Il Dulci Jubilo."
Other highlights include an arrangement of the Italian carol "Ninna nanna di Gesù bambino," John Gardner's jazzy "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day," and ending with a bang, Mendelssohn's "Hark! The herald angels sing." The choral sound is warm, round and exquisitely balanced, complemented by the acoustics of the Magdalen College chapel.
Carols by Candlelight
The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford; Bill Ives, conductor
Harmonia Mundi 907495