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Briefly Noted: Christmas in the Pandemic Summer

available at Amazon
Christmas Carols, SWR Vokalensemble, M. Creed

(released on August 10, 2020)
SWR Classic SWR19094CD | 59'10"
How keenly music's absence is felt during the pandemic struck me recently listening to this little disc. It is nothing spectacular in terms of programming: an hour's worth of English Christmas carols. The singing is excellent, done in beautiful sound by the SWR Vokalensemble, about thirty voices in size, under the direction of Marcus Creed.

A German choir stealing the lunch of their British colleagues is fair payback for the perennial "Christmas Around the World" programs heard every year, and the English pronunciation here is impeccable. A tribute, this, to the teaching of their English-born director, an alumnus of both King's College, Cambridge, and Christ Church, Oxford, whose tenure with this distinguished radio choir ended this summer.

The group's women sound better on their own (in Emily Elizabeth Poston's rich Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, for example) than the men, who are featured less. The same applies in solo voices heard, although on this account the more demanding writing, as in The Fayrfax Carol of Thomas Adès, taxes both equally. The echo quartet in Britten's gorgeous A Hymn to the Virgin, happily, is top-notch. The effect of this simple but effective carol service is a sweet reminiscence of the days before coronavirus (the recording was captured in the fall of 2018). Sadly, it is also a bitter reminder that we may spend a bleak Christmas without "the playing of the merry organ" or "sweet singing in the choir," in the nostalgic words of the The Holly and the Ivy.

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