100 Years of Nine Lessons & Carols

BBC Music Magazine - - Choral & Song Reviews -

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



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