An Oxford Christmas With All the Trimmings

This release is the companion volume to Albion’s 2016 “Vaughan Williams Christmas” album. This time, the selections come primarily from the Oxford Book of Carols. This 1928 publication was extremely influential. Vaughan Williams’ carol arrangements for this book turn up in many protestant hymnals. Some that is, but not all.

And that’s what makes this collection so rewarding to listen to. There are the familiar tunes, such as “The Bellman’s Song,” “Wassail Song,” and “The First Nowell.”

But then there are all these other gems. “Job,” “Come all ye Faithful Christians,” and “If Ye Would Hear the Angels Sing,” are but three examples.

Vaughan Williams had internalized English folk traditions. His settings of these carols show their origins. The harmonies sometimes are modal, the melodies retain their non-standard rhythms. And even though these are four-square SATB arrangements, there’s nothing square about them.

The Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea performs these works beautifully. The choir has a warm, luminous sound. And yet their articulation is laser-precise. The recording venue is also well-suited for this music. There’s enough decay to enrich the sound, but not enough to obscure it.

If you want to know what choral music should sound like, get this album. And if you, like me, are always looking for top-quality Christmas music, look here. The Oxford Book of Carols was published in part to raise the standard of seasonal music. This recording raises the standard of its performance.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: An Oxford Christmas
Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea; William Vann, director
Joshua Ryan, organ
Albion Records

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