100 Years of Nine Lessons & Carols
Works by Adam, Adès, Berlioz, JH Hopkins, Ledger, Pärt, Rütti, Tavener, Weir, D Willcocks, et al
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/ Stephen Cleobury, David Willcocks, Philip Ledger; Henry Websdale, Donal Mccann (organ)
King’s College KGS 0033
106:42 mins (2 discs)
Although it had only been broadcast annually for just over a decade, such was the impact of the King’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that during
the Second World War some of the prisoners interned in a Japanese POW camp enacted their own recreation with a choir robed in sheets for surplices and introduced by a pretend BBC announcer.
2018 marks the centenary of the Cambridge institution and the anniversary is celebrated with this set of historic and new recordings. It’s a shame there’s nothing earlier than 1958 to lend a longer perspective, but it’s fascinating to trace the evolution of the choir’s sound over 60 years and three music directors. (Longevity of tenure seems almost to come with the territory. The first broadcast in 1928 was directed by someone who’d been in post as chapel organist since 1876!).
Curiously ponderous tempos seemed to have held sway in the early Willcocks years, and 1963’s Adam lay ybounden finds concluding consonants springing to attention like over-enthusiastic squaddies. By the 1980 In dulci jubilo, however, Philip Ledger encourages something less uptight, even if his descant for ‘★ark the ★erald’ underwhelms.
But Stephen Cleobury bags the lion’s share of the tracks, and particularly striking are some of the commissions that have been a feature of his directorship. Arvo Pärt’s skipping, blink-and-you-miss-it Bogoróditse Djévo and Carl Rütti’s bluesy I wonder as I wander might be more pews-friendly than Thomas Adès’s ambitious Fayrfax Carol or Judith Weir’s haunted Illuminare,
Jerusalem, but as custodians of a national treasure, the choir takes versatility and tradition in its consummate, unflappable stride. Paul Riley