CHRISTMAS CAROLS FROM TEWKESBURY ABBEY (Andrew Sackett/ Peter H. Hill/ Tewkesbury Abbey Choir) (Naxos: 8.553077)
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Carols from Tewkesbury Abbey
Traditionally carols were not necessarily confined to the Christmas season, but were dance-songs. The dancers of Kölbigk, indeed, found themselves in difficulties with the Church, condemned by an angry priest to dance for a whole year, as a punishment for their neglect of religious duties, carolling at an inappropriate time in the churchyard. Nevertheless, even in the Middle Ages, there were carols specifically for Christmas, the season with which nowadays these songs are most closely associated. It has become the fashion to use very considerable technical and musical skill in the arrangement of essentially simple and popular music for the kind of sophisticated performance to be found in the major English choral foundations, and on these arrangements composers annually use much ingenuity and artifice.
The Tewkesbury Abbey carols open with The first Nowell, in an arrangement by Sir David Willcocks, a musician well known for his long association with King's College, Cambridge, and its choir, and with the London Bach Choir. The series continues with another David Willcocks arrangement, this time of an old Basque carol, with well known words by S. Baring-Gould, Gabriel's Message. Other fine arrangements by David Willcocks include a version of the popular While shepherds watched their flocks, from Thomas East's 1592 publication, The Whole Booke of Psalmes with their Wonted Tunes, as they are sung in Churches. The Polish carol Infant holy, infant lowly is included, with the fifteenth century French Franciscan processional Come, o come Emmanuel. Two other French carols arranged by David Willcocks are Angels from the realms of glory and Quelle est cette odeur agréable? (Whence is that goodly fragrance flowings?), the latter sung here in French. A final arrangement by David Willcocks in the present collection is of the traditional English watchman's song God rest ye merry, gentlemen.
A maiden most gentle appears in an arrangement by Andrew Carter and the traditional Cornish Sans Day Carol in a version by John Rutter. There is an arrangement of Karl Leuner's Shepherds' Cradle-Song by Charles Macpherson and of the traditional English The Holly and the Ivy by Sir Walford Davies, Master of the King's Musicke from 1934 in succession to Sir Edward Elgar. The oratorio by Hector Berlioz, L'enfance du Christ (The Childhood of Christ) brings The Shepherds' Farewell (Thou must leave thy lowly dwelling).
The Stockport composer John Wainwright, organist and singer at Manchester Collegiate Church, later Manchester Cathedral, in the year before his death, 1767, is best remembered for his Christmas hymn Christians awake, salute the happy mom, written about 1750. Less familiar is the traditional English melody set to The Truth from Above by Ralph Vaughan Williams, co-editor of the important 1928 Oxford Book of Carols, a reaction, like The English Hymnal, to the excesses of nineteenth century sentimental hymnody.
The anonymous fifteenth century words of Adam lay y-bounden are familiar in various settings. Not the least well known is the version by Boris Ord, predecessor of Sir David Willcocks at King's College, Cambridge, where he was choirmaster and organist for some twenty-five years. The nineteenth century hymn As with gladness men of old is followed by an old Basque Noel, used as a setting of anonymous fifteenth century English words, I saw a maiden.
Good King Wenceslas, Bohemian saint and patriot, owes its words to J. M. Neale, its melody to the late sixteenth century German Piae cantiones and its arrangement to Reginald Jaques, for thirty years conductor of the London Bach Choir, a position he held until 1961, when he was succeeded by Sir David Willcocks. Michael Head, a respected composer of many English songs, is the composer of The Little Road to Bethlehem, with words by Margaret Rose.
The Choir of Tewkesbury Abbey School
The Tewkesbury Abbey School was founded in 1973 as the choir school for Tewkesbury Abbey. Its foundation has revived the tradition begun in the Abbey which is generally acknowledged as having one of the finest acoustics in England. The choristers, who are awarded scholarships on audition at regular voice trials, are all educated at the Abbey School which is a member of the Choir School's Association.
The Abbey School Choir sings Evensong during term time on Monday to Thursday. Most of the choristers are weekly boarders and without weekend commitments, they are able to combine the benefits of a choristership - with its excellent musical and academic training - with a normal family life at weekends.
Outside the normal routine of Abbey services, the choir is increasingly in demand for concerts, recital work and recording, both in England and abroad. Recent concert tours have included visits to Germany, the Soviet Union, France and Holland. Earlier this year the choir returned to France for a series of concerts in the Loire Valley, prior to which the choristers gave a series of four concerts with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle.
Andrew Sackett was born in Sheffield in 1964 and at an early age had piano lessons with Fanny Waterman. Before entering the Royal Northern College of Music in 1982 he studied organ with Jonathan Rees-Williams at Lichfield Cathedral. At college he studied organ with Eric Chadwick and Gordon Stewart and piano accompaniment with David Lloyd. During his final year at Royal Northern College he was also organ scholar at Manchester Cathedral. In January 1987 he was appointed Assistant Organist at Carlisle Cathedral and in September 1989 moved to Tewkesbury Abbey, where he is Director of the Choir of the Abbey School. He also conducts the highly acclaimed Malvern chamber choir, The Aldwyn Consort of Voices, as well as being in demand as a recitalist and accompanist.