Review by: David Vernier
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 8
Not many listeners will be familiar with J.A.C. Redford’s Christmas compositions–or even with Redford himself, unless they know of his many contributions to film and television. But thanks to Clarion Records and its continuing search for music and performances worthy of rescue and restoration to the catalog, we have this fine set of pieces (taken from recordings made in the mid-1990s) that deserve attention by performers and choral fans. Shepherd Story, for choir and orchestra, is Redford’s adaptation of the account of the shepherds’ adoration of the newborn Jesus, found in Luke, chapter 2. From the very beginning you can tell that this is the work of a composer who knows how to write good tunes, engaging rhythms that capture the energy implied in the texts, and who knows how to pull the essential dramatic moments from a story and orchestrate them. He also understands how to write for voices–and importantly, knows how to create a work that a normal, accomplished group of singers and players can perform. Yes, there’s nothing strikingly original here, but the music is challenging enough and manages to sound fresh and always interesting.
Even more impressive is the medley for brass, In Dulci Jubilo, which incorporates five familiar but not over-worked tunes–the title song, The Wexford Carol, Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine, I wonder as I wander, and Susanni–into a first-rate concert work that shows accomplished brass-ensemble writing technique, originality in treatment of themes, and a terrific ability to capture the style of each song while offering players and listeners a jolly good time. This would be the highlight of the disc, except for the following work, also in five parts, but this time the Christmas themes are drawn from the poetry and the music is all original.
Welcome All Wonders, for choir and orchestra, is more ambitious in scope and detail than the previous works, but it’s no less accessible, tuneful, or rhythmically appealing, and I can’t understand why this isn’t performed on concert programs more frequently. As with the tunes in the brass medley, the texts here are all very carefully and intelligently selected–for mood and meaning and particular dramatic features. While the music may have its Bernsteinian and (John) Williams-esque moments, it’s for the most part independently imaginative and very affecting, and Redford is especially clever in his choice of rhythmic settings (taking a page from Britten, perhaps?).
The choir is very good, completely at home with these works and singing with joy and enthusiasm and well-rehearsed ensemble technique. Likewise, the Philadelphia Brass does an admirable job with some very tricky music, although I’ve heard brass groups play with just a touch more smoothness and polish. The newly remastered sound is fine–the brass tracks are best–and my only request would be for the disc’s producers to have included among the extended paragraphs on Redford’s accomplishments just a few lines on the works included on this program. We do, however, get full texts, information regarding sources, and recording details. Choral and Christmas music fans will want to hear this.
Buy Now from Arkiv Music
J.A.C. REDFORD - Shepherd Story; In Dulci Jubilo; Welcome All Wonders: A Christmas Celebration