Sounds of Christmas

Abbeydale Singers at Bradfield Festival
Abbeydale Singers at Bradfield Festival

FOR those hooked on carol concerts, this Saturday represents something of a dilemma as there are four of them, one actually managing to avoid John Rutter’s name appearing anywhere on the programme!

Quite an achievement so let’s have a look at what’s on offer at that one first: Gloria in Excelsis Deo, the Abbeydale Singers’ thus titled concert at St Mark’s Church, Broomhill.

Viva Voce in Millennium Sqjuare

Viva Voce in Millennium Sqjuare

The Gloria setting is by Thomas Weelkes and is sandwiched between pieces by later English composers, Parry’s Welcome Yule and Ireland’s A New Year Carol, before two by a living one, Gabriel Jackson: The Christ-child and Nowell Sing We.

A Babe is Born (Mathias), Away in a Manger, one of Walton’s four carol settings, All this Time, The Angel Gabriel (traditional Basque), Make we Merry (Andrew Carter), Silent Night, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Mel Tormé’s Christmas Song and Gordon Langford’s arrangement of Jingle Bells for The King’s Singers are performed elsewhere.

As is A Gospel Christmas, arranged by Daryl Runswick: The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy, Children Go Where I Send Thee, Steal Away/ Poor Little Jesus, Pretty Home and Go Tell it on a Mountain.

Ashley Garfitt, in his final year at Mount St Mary College and a City of Sheffield Youth Orchestra member, has two slots which he fills with two of Gerald Finzi’s Bagatelles, No’s 1 and 5, and the third movement of Joseph Horovitz’s Clarinet Sonatina.

His accompanist is Ian Roberts, director of music at St John’s Ranmoor, who is also organist and pianist for the choir when required.

If you think there are one or two unfamiliar items in the Abbeydale concert, you haven’t seen the programme put together by a cappella chamber choir Viva Voce, On This Shining Night, at Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street.

No less than 32 pieces, some obviously short, are on it and someone has been digging deep as most are well off the beaten Yuletide track (some texts are familiar but the settings are not), ranging from early Renaissance to the present day.

In rough chronological order there are pieces by Byrd – Laetentur coeli; Francisco Guerrero (16th-century Spaniard); Peter Philips; Praetorius; Robert Ramsey; Samuel Scheidt, up to Bach – two items from Cantata No 63 and a chorus from the Christmas Oratorio.

Moving forward in time, there is Mendelssohn, Peter Cornelius – Die Könige (Three Kings); Grieg (Ave Maris Stella) as we enter 20th-century England and Vaughan Williams – Wassail Song (Five English Folksongs), The Blessed Son of God (from his Christmas cantata Hodie); Warlock; Howells – Sing Lullaby, A Spotless Rose; Patrick Hadley; and Leighton – Coventry Carol.

And into more recent times with composers who are still alive and kicking: Arvo Pärt – Bogoróditse Djévo; Danish/ American Morten Lauridsen – Sure on this shining night; John Rutter – Carol of the Magi; Bob Chilcott – Shepherd’s Carol; Jan Sandström (from Sweden); Judith Weir – Illuminare Jerusalem; and Thomas Adès – The Fayrfax Carol.

The latter two are fairly recent commissions from King’s College, Cambridge and among non-credited pieces is the medieval There is no Rose which crops up – as does Cornelius’ Three Kings – in Sheffield Cathedral’s 17th annual Christmas Brass and Voices.

Once again, the Cathedral Choir share the event with Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band, which was on the verge of extinction when the pit closed in 1993 but rebuilt itself to be currently number six in world brass band rankings, and the only band among the UK’s top ten to be entirely amateur.

Vocal items include Adam lay ybounden (Ord), Sans Day Carol (arr Rutter), A Tender Shoot (Oliver Goldschmidt), In the Bleak Midwinter (Darke), Angel Gabriel, Sir Christemas (Matthias), O Leave Your Sheep (arr Leighton), White Christmas and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

An eclectic selection of ‘brass’ items include Superman, Away in a Manger, Glorifico Aeternum (Dean Jones), Troika (Prokofiev), O Holy Night, Adagio from Khachaturian’s Spartacus, Mack the Knife, Amazing Grace (with piper), two Leroy Anderson pieces, Christmas Festival Overture, Sleigh Ride, and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus!

Pieces involving everyone, including the congregation/ audience, are O Come all ye Faithful, Good King Wenceslas, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Parry’s Jerusalem, arranged by ‘Mr Herbert’!

Moving back out the city centre, to St Oswald’s Church on Abbeydale Road, Hallam Choral Society has a mix of familiar and unfamiliar items at Saturday’s fourth festive concert, which also has participatory pieces and some readings – and is the least Rutter-free!

His name is attached to four items, one his own, Nativity Carol, and as arranger: Sans Day Carol, Here We Come a’Wassailing, The Twelve Days of Christmas – different to the Abbeydale Singers version which is an Andrew Carter arrangement.

Other pieces heard elsewhere on the night are Silent Night, Coventry Carol, White Christmas, Mel Tormé’s Christmas Song (all different arrangements), Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O Come all ye Faithful, Good King Wenceslas and one of the two Peter Warlock pieces in Viva Voce’s concert, Benedicamus Domino.

Ones that are not range from the unfamiliar to well known: O Come and Join the Dance (Kendrick), The Night Before Christmas, a couple of David Willcocks arrangements, The Lord at first did Adam make (English traditional), Masters in this hall (French), Shepherd’s Farewell (Berlioz), Winter Wonderland, Ding Dong Merrily, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Once in Royal David’s City.

Among six readings is an excerpt from Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie (the misfit carollers) and one of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas, dated: Top of the World, North Pole – Xmas 1929!

Take Your Pick!