One Star, At Last: A Selection of Carols of Our Time

One Star, At Last: A Selection of Carols of Our Time

by BBC SingersBBC Singers


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The cover of this disc, evocative of a shopping-mall display, fails to so much as hint at the riches within: a collection of contemporary Christmas pieces that, in its range, will be of interest even to those of other faiths or none at all. As ever, it is the eclectic spirit that forms the great British strength. On this disc, populists and pop-influenced composers (Howard Goodall's "Romance of the Angels" is a big ska
umba extravaganza that sets a medieval Spanish text and works strangely well) bump up against minimalists (John Tavener), who bump up against modernists (Peter Maxwell Davies), and a few genuine freethinkers (Jerzy Kornowicz, whose "Oczekiwanie" [Waiting] is one of the highlights of the whole set with its extraordinary manipulation of abstract but instantly comprehensible structural elements: spoken word, wordless choral singing, and combination of a short Polish text and its own translation into English). Continental European and American composers are represented as well as Britons. Observances of Christmas range from explicit to vaguely allusive to entirely secular. And all the music fits together beautifully! The chamber-sized BBC Singers under Stephen Cleobury perform everything with enthusiasm, and they have evolved into a group that can technically hold its own with any in a chorally rich country. The disc is noteworthy as well for making distinctive use of the recording medium; several works include distinctive electronic effects, and John Harle's jolly "Mrs. Beeton's Christmas Plum Pudding (average cost 3 shillings and 6d)," which closes the proceedings, includes LP background noise in its inventive rearrangement of a parade of nostalgic effects. A fabulous disc to have around at the holidays, or even to have around as one ponders the problem of classical music's continuing relevance.

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