James Whitbourn – Carolae refreshes old favorites

I usually don’t like choral works that try to incorporate traditional Christmas carols. My issue is that the original tune usually sounds like it’s been shoehorned into a setting without becoming a part of it.

Not so with James Whitbourn’s “Missa Carolae.” Yes, the recognizable tunes are there — “Patapan,” “God rest ye merry gentlemen,” “In Dulci Jubilo” and so on — and they’re recognizable when they appear. But these carols are part of a larger musical tapestry.

Whitbourn takes his source material and blends it seamlessly together, letting his original contributions flow from the structures and motifs of the carols themselves. To my ears, it makes these overly-familiar carols sound fresh again.

That freshness extends to Whitbourn’s original choral works, some of which are also included on this release. These are richly textured, robust works that should appeal to both the casual listener (as most parishioners are) or the classical devotee who wants music of substance and depth.

The Westminster Williamson Voices is a large choir, so there’s a certain softness to their sound. But the ensemble has a warm, creamy blend that’s well-suited to the music. And their articulation is virtually flawless.

I don’t need yet another by-the-numbers setting of Christmas standards. When I auditioned “Carolae, Music for Christmas,” I realized this was a disc I needed.

James Whitbourn: Carolae
Music for Christmas
Westminster Williamson Voices; James Jordan, director
Eric Rieger, tenor; Daryl Robinson, organ
Naxos 8.573715

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