Ralph Vaughan Williams An Oxford Christmas Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, William Vann ALBCD050
The Sussex Mummers Carol forms a serenely beautiful opening to this disc of Christmas music with the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, directed by William Vann, and Joshua Ryan as organist. The works presented are all Vaughan Williams arrangements of traditional and folk carols (one made jointly with Martin Shaw), taken mainly from The Oxford Book of Carols. Most are reserved, gentle works, so the inclusion of such pieces as the Gloucestershire Wassail and Sussex Carol (First Tune) come as welcome contrasts. The pleasingly resonant acoustic of St-Jude-on-the-Hill in Hampstead Garden Suburbs works very well for these carols, and the presentation of the whole package is excellent, with an attractive and appropriate cover image, and fascinating, well-written booklet notes from Jeremy Summerly and John Francis. In fact, I have only one small criticism of what is otherwise a delightful production, which is that the intonation of the voices —the women especially— is not always very centred or secure. Otherwise, this is a charming addition to my Christmas carol collection, and would be to yours too.
Purcell Dido and Aeneas Les Arts Florissants, William Christie DVD 2.110709
From the baton of William Christie comes a filmed Dido and Aeneas with classy, vivacious performances on a minimal but nevertheless effective stage setting. The singers – Malena Emman (Dido), Christopher Maltman (Aeneas), Judith van Wanroij (Belinda) and Hilary Summers (Sorceress)— are all at the top of their games and deliver convincing and impassioned interpretations, well-supported by the rest of the cast and Les Arts Florissants. Perhaps the witches don’t cackle very much and aren’t quite as sinister as one might like, but their musicianship cannot be faulted. Dress is vaguely seventeenth-century, although there is a large group of children incongruously running around in school uniform, who occasionally join in dances (though I am not certain whether these are meant to be out of step) and swarm over the ship as well, when on scene. The ship itself is particularly well-done, with especially effective and impressive use of ropes and rope-climbing. On the whole, whilst I would return to this version for the music-making (and the ship), I wouldn’t be particularly tempted to do so for the set and costume, which seem unable to commit fully to a seventeenth-century setting but jerk us back now and then to the modern world for no apparent reason. (And why deprive the children of the joy of dressing up in costume?)--Em Marshall-Luck