The London Oriana Choir’s first CD of Christmas Carols came out in 1995 so it was high time that we produced another. In the meantime we have had so much fun at our Christmas concerts, exploring with our audiences the vast and wonderful repertoire of magical choral works that are written for this uplifting time of year. Christmas is a time to celebrate new life, and the inspiration of the Christmas story seems to stimulate a constant stream of new works to discover and there are always gems to be uncovered.
A recording is a golden opportunity to present to the public some of the special numbers that every choir keeps close to its heart. We hope that you will enjoy a few of these new discoveries on this CD, such as Giles Swayne’s sparkling Starlight; the Tippett arrangement of Angelus; Ian Sealey’s beautiful carol Hush, Richard Allain’s outrageous Bethlemayhem and of course the world premiere recording of Kenneth Leighton’s magical Nativitie.
As well as these, we know that everyone loves all the traditional, favourite carols at Christmas time and we have always tried to feature these as well. Since London Oriana is a concert choir rather than a church choir, Christmas has always provided me with an annual temptation to arrange one or two of the traditional carols in such a way as to give the choir something challenging and adventurous to sing whilst still allowing the audience to join in lustily with the bits they know. As such we have often treated the audience as a resource and invited them to sing on their own against the choir, or learn new carols and descants or perform actions. Strangely this seems to have provoked far more hilarity and enjoyment than embarrassment, and audiences have insisted on coming back year after year for more. As a result, this stock of off-the-wall Oriana carol arrangements has built up and a recording of many of them represents something of a celebration of my sixteen years with the choir.
Many of the Christmas texts link the Christmas message with Easter, rightly juxtaposing the innocence and peace of the new-born baby with the future torments of crucifixion that the adult Saviour will have to undergo to achieve our redemption–a fundamental aspect of Christian faith. Much of my inspiration for these arrangements has come from the power of that painful realisation which all parents, protective of their own children’s future, undoubtedly experience.
Christmas is of course a time for children and many of these arrangements were written with children in mind. Since mine all attend Alpha Preparatory School in Harrow it seemed natural to invite their school choir to take part in our Christmas CD.
David Drummond, Musical Director, London Oriana Choir
Organ: David Swinson
Harp: Daniel DeFry
Clarinet: Catriona Scott
Flute: Una Murphy
Recorded at St Jude’s-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, January 2012
LONDON ORIANA CHOIR
The London Oriana Choir is one of Britain’s leading amateur choral groups. Since 1996 it has been under the directorship of David Drummond, who continues to develop the choir with his vision, innovative teaching ideas and new repertoire.
The choir has performed in all of London’s major venues with many great artists and orchestras, highlights of which include: the Royal Festival Hall and the O2 with the RPO; St. Paul’s Cathedral with Beth Nielsen Chapman, the Barbican with the London Mozart Players in Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius and also with Sir Thomas Allen as Elijah, as well as many appearances in the Royal Albert Hall.
For the BBC the choir has performed with Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin at Abbey Road and also at The Roundhouse in an Electric Prom broadcast by BBC Radio 2 and BBC 2 TV. Together with the BBC Concert Orchestra, London Oriana has made a world-premiere CD recording of Dyson’s Odysseus.
Abroad, the choir has given concerts in such venues as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris and the Pushkin Palace outside St Petersburg, at festivals in Aix-en-Provence, Strasbourg, Aachen and Cork, and at other important venues in Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy and Latvia and the Netherlands.
Repertoire ranges from the great orchestral choral works to contemporary commissions. A cappella music is sung in many languages and in all styles; secular and sacred, Renaissance to the present day, classical to jazz, popular and folk music from around the world.
You can read more about the choir at our website: http://www.londonoriana.com
1 Gaudete - Anon. (arr. Drummond)
One of the most joyful and popular of ancient carols, Gaudete’s natural cross-rhythms give it a fluent forward momentum, the appeal of which caused it to be taken up by such influential folk groups as Steeleye Span. With some extra rhythmic thrust and further contemporary cross-rhythms it becomes something of a tour-de-force. The ridiculous tessitura of the third verse was only a piece of fun to take advantage of some extreme voices in the choir. It can be performed straight, by a single soloist or unison choir.
Soloists: Margaret Barnett, Cathy Chapman, Philip Sherwood and Mike Bolton
2 Angels from the realms of glory - Trad. (arr. Drummond)
This is an audience carol from a 2001 concert, where the audience were invited to hold the main carol theme while the choir extrapolated. Tavener’s The Lamb, and Joy to the World were also on the programme and I couldn’t resist these where appropriate, under the carol theme.
3 Starlight - Giles Swayne. (arr. Drummond)
Starlight is a delightful new discovery - very popular with the choir. It was written for schoolchildren in the London Borough of Harrow in 1981 by the eminent contemporary composer Giles Swayne but despite its extremely catchy tune, it has lain largely forgotten since then. With Giles’s permission I have ramped up the keys between verses, added some sparkly bits for the harp and the piano together with some choral descants and backing vocals.
4 Personent Hodie - Trad./Holst (arr. Drummond)
This is a very popular audience carol to which a harp part has been added. The 3rd verse has been re-harmonised and slowed down to reflect the awe of the wise men and the twinkling mystery of the star.
5 Angelus ad virginem - Anon./Tippett (arr. Drummond)
I fell in love with this music when conducting Tippett’s wonderful orchestral Suite in D. Called simply ‘Carol’ it struck me how well it might work if arranged for voices and organ so that choirs too, might have the benefit of Tippett’s exquisite harmonies. Seeking out the source I found the mediaeval original to be a delightful conversational style account of the Annunciation. It begins with a tenor solo while Tippett’s version happens to conclude with instruments in tenor register under high violins, suggesting a nice arch shape. Tippett’s writing is so organically attuned to the music of that period that it seemed perfectly natural to let the medieval version flow easily into his.
Soloists: Simon Funnell, Maeve MacRory, Caroline Llewellyn, Ulrike Wolff, Rebecca Mitchell, Cathy Chapman
6 The Infant King - Trad. (arr. Drummond)
One of the most beautiful carol lullabies, with its idyllic vision of the slumbering babe. At one point the text contrasts the sleeping peace of the child with the agonies that are to come, represented with more brutal harmonies at “nails and piercing”. Happily, however, the future also contains the tremendous joys of Easter. Unaware of any of this, the Infant King sleeps on.
Soloists: Ghiselle Richardson, Maeve MacRory, Fiona Tong, Cathy Chapman
11 In the Bleak Midwinter Trad./Holst (arr. Harold Darke / Drummond)
In Harold Darke’s setting, this is one of the most popular of all carols for audiences. I have re-arranged the 3rd verse for a cappella voices, and added back verse 4 which doesn’t occur in the Darke setting. However the thrilling vision of ”archangels thronging the air” was irresistibly appealing, both musically and structurally, especially as it provides a perfect contrast for the beautifully touching last strophe.
Soloist: Nan Fee
12 Make we joy now in this fest - Trad./Woodward (arr. Drummond)
We celebrated a Medieval Christmas in 2010 and this was a carol we taught the audience. Great fun to sing and very joyous - the original harmonisation for all verses was by Charles Woodward. Since this becomes repetitive for five strophes I have changed and rewritten the harmonies for individual verses.
13 Child in a Manger - Trad. (arr. Drummond)
Child in a Manger is one of my favourite carols. I wanted to make it joyful, and loved the fact that the tune lent itself to contrapuntal treatment. I thought it would be nice with a flute part. Solo Flute: Una Murphy
14 Deck the Hall - Trad. (arr. Drummond)
Deck the Hall is really just a bit of fun, with the bass section in the back row concentrating more on inebriation than anything else.
15 Ding Dong Merrily! - Trad. (arr. Drummond)
I have been mercilessly ribbed for this arrangement since 2003 because of the sheer number of dings and dongs involved. They also had to sing in 5/4 while the audience would reply in 4/4. In the final section the organ attempts to keep up the 5/4 whilst the choir revert to the more traditional time signature. It’s all very silly.
16 Bethlemayhem! - Richard Allain (arr. Drummond)
This is a song in Richard Allain’s Christmas Cantata for children entitled “Manger Tom” (or The Last Straw!) which is a very funny, moving Christmas story inspired by David Bowie’s single Starman and with lyrics by Richard’s brother Tom. Here it has been arranged for 4-part choir.