Christmas With Sonoro

Review by: David Vernier

sonorochristmas

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

For most listeners, even those experienced with Christmas choral collections, the majority of original works and arrangements on this program will be unfamiliar. And that turns out to be a good thing–the selections are diverse enough yet compatible and complementary in style, all set with a sensitivity to text, to the spirit of the occasion–whether celebratory or contemplative–and, importantly, to singability and listenability.

So many Christmas collections in recent years, for some reason mostly from British choirs, have to their credit highlighted new music–but much of it unsingable by any but the most accomplished ensembles, and so difficult for the ear to reconcile alongside starkly more “accessible” works that the listening experience becomes uneasy and even intermittently unpleasant. Which is why I warily listened to the first several selections here–and found myself thoroughly and continuously surprised as the disc progressed. Here is a choral Christmas program that you can listen to straight through without fear, combining the delight of discovery–new composers, new music and texts, new arrangements of traditional carols–with the comfort and joy of a few beloved, favorite, familiar anchors, from Joubert’s There is no rose and Howells’ A spotless rose, to Warlock’s Bethlehem Down.

Beginning with Malcolm Archer’s A little child there is yborn, its bouncy, jovial character reminiscent of a John Rutter setting, the program progresses through a wide array of traditional texts and sometimes tunes–The angel Gabriel; In the bleak midwinter; Tomorrow shall be my dancing day; The Holly and the Ivy; Coventry Carol–but in inventive and always agreeable new realizations by composers and arrangers such as Paul Spicer (whose In a Field as I Lay is a highlight), Gareth Treseder (Blessed be that Maid Marie–another gem), Michael Higgins, Becky McGlade, Betty Roe, and Sally Beamish. And it doesn’t hurt that the singing by the 17 voices of Sonoro–yes, a professional British chamber choir–is consistently well-tuned, perfectly balanced, and projects a vibrant, characterful sound that gives the impression of concert-like spontaneity–a rare and welcome effect on a recording. The sooner you get this the more time you’ll have to listen. Highly recommended.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Christmas With Sonoro
  • Michael Higgins (organ)
  • Sonoro, Neil Ferris


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