“The Centenary Service” = A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols – King’s College Cambridge

by | Dec 14, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

“The Centenary Service” = A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols – The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/ Stephen Cleobury – King’s College Cambridge KGS0036 multichannel SACD, 76:44 *****:

December 24, 2018, at three o’clock in the afternoon was witness to the one hundredth service of the Nine Lessons and Carols as performed by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. The last hundred years have certainly been spectacular, as this is surely the most important, and easily the most famous, Christmas Eve service in the world. Last year the choir released a double CD of many carols and commissions from years past, and it is definitely a worthwhile purchase, but this present issue, the live service itself, is equally, if not more, important as a milestone in the choir’s history, and indeed, the worldwide celebration of a truly magnificent achievement.

As you can see from the track listing, there is a goodly mix of carols, mostly of the traditional type, yet enough contemporary (including a new commission by Judith Weir) to add the requisite spice. But it does seem that for this special one-hundred-year service the emphasis is more on what the choir has always done best: singing the favorites with a passion and unequivocally Anglican flavor that so marks this style of performance in the minds of an international audience.

The deluxe hardcover booklet that contains the disc is beautifully done, with a service outline, texts, and many reminiscences of conductors, composers, and choristers associated with the festival over the years. Cleobury, in his final act as conductor before retiring, leads a wonderfully apt and spotless service with his young men and boys singing their hearts out, fully aware of the historical and commemorative nature of the day. The fact that all of this is available in superb multichannel sound makes this release even more remarkable, and something of a necessary acquisition for carol lovers.

1 Once in royal David’s City: H. J. Gauntlett and A. H. Mann, desc. S. Cleobury
2 The Bidding Prayer, Lord’s Prayer and Benediction
3 Up! good Christen folk Piæ Cantiones: harm. G. R. Woodward
4 First Lesson
5 Adam lay ybounden: Boris Ord
6 Jesus Christ the apple tree: Elizabeth Poston
7 Second Lesson
8 In dulci jubilo: German traditional, arr. Robert Lucas de Pearsall
9 I saw three ships: English traditional, arr. Simon Preston
10 Third Lesson
11 Nowell sing we: Mediæval, ed. Stephen Cleobury
12 Unto us is born a Son: Piæ Cantiones, arr. David Willcocks
13 Fourth Lesson
14 A Spotless Rose: Herbert Howells
15 The Lamb: John Tavener
16 Fifth Lesson
17 Joys Seven: Traditional, arr. Stephen Cleobury
18 Bogoróditse Dyevo: Arvo Pärt
19 Sixth Lesson
20 What sweeter music: John Rutter
21 Stille Nacht: Franz Gruber, arr. Philip Ledger
22 Seventh Lesson
23 In the bleak mid-winter: Harold Darke
24 While shepherds watched their flocks by night: After C. Tye, desc. Stephen Cleobury
25 Eighth Lesson
26 O mercy divine: Judith Weir
27 Sir Christèmas: William Mathias
28 Ninth Lesson
29 O come, all ye faithful: Adeste fideles, desc. David Willcocks
30 Collect and Blessing
31 Hark! the herald angels sing: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, desc. Stephen Cleobury
32 In dulci jubilo, BWV 729: Johann Sebastian Bach

—Steven Ritter

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