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This recording contains a representative selection of music which may be heard at a typical St. Bride's carol service, both traditional congregational hymns and more adventurous music for choir alone. The form of most of our Christmas services is based on the now traditional service of Nine Lessons with Carols, a service which is familiar to millions through the annual broadcast from King's College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve and the influence of this tradition remains strong on all who choose music for Christmas services.
The more traditional carols on this recording use arrangements and descants by Sir David Willcocks, except the versions of "O little town of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night," which are by John Cullen, who was Director of Music at Tonbridge School.
The choir pieces range from the Victorian era to our own century, although many of the texts are medieval, reminding us that the word "carol" itself dates from that period. "In dulci jubilo" is an example of a tune which was originally light and dance-like - the mid- Victorian composer Robert Lucas da Pearsall makes it into a more solemn and complex piece, using up to eight voice-parts. By contrast, Peter Warlock's "Benedicamus Domino", dating from the 1920s, is a lively setting of a text actually intended for New Year rather than Christmas. Dating from around the same period is the setting of "The Holly and the Ivy" by Sir Henry Walford Davies, one of the pioneers of church music broadcasting on the BBC. Elizabeth Poston was active as a composer around the middle years of the 20th century, and her carol "Jesus Christ the apple tree," based on a haunting and original melody sung by a solo soprano at the beginning and end, is probably her best-known work.
The remaining pieces are of more recent origin. John Rutter's music has been a constant feature of Christmas events over the past thirty years - his setting of the 15th-century text "There is a flower" is written for unaccompanied voices and begins and ends with a soprano solo. Bob Chilcott is steeped in the King's tradition having been both a chorister and a choral scholar there. His "Shepherd's Carol," written to an anonymous text, has became a firm favourite at St. Bride's over the past few Christmases. The arrangement of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" by Andrew Carter, has something for everyone - musical enthusiasts will enjoy identifying the numerous quotations which illustrate the different sections, while others will appreciate the virtuoso demands made upon the singers and its overall sense of fun. Some of his carols also use the composer's own text - one example is "Mary's Magnificat," composed in 1986 in which Carter's words in the two outer verses frame a setting of the opening verse of the Magnificat sung by a soprano soloist.
We hope that this combination of musical and vocal expertise with an air of enjoyment will sum up the St. Bride's Christmas experience for all those who share it with us.