SESSION REPORT Worcester College Choir record contemporary Christmas carols
Work Including Richard Allain’s Balulalow; and Gabriel Jackson’s Hush! My Dear Artists Worcester College Choir, Oxford Venue Keble College Chapel, Oxford Conductor Stephen Farr Producer/Engineer Adam Binks Date of session June 17-19, 2012 Words Geoffrey Norris
orry to throw a spanner into the works,’ says a disembodied voice over the PA system, ‘but I think we’ve got the pronunciation of some of these words wrong.’ It’s a glorious summer Sunday morning in Oxford. The cloisters of Keble College, tranquil and breathlessly hushed, are bathed in warm sunshine. The city is still asleep, but within the chapel there is already hard graft going on. The choir of Worcester College have left their home in Walton Street, crossed over St Giles’ and come to Keble to make a recording in acoustics that, as someone remarks, ‘nicely cosset succulent, smoky harmonies’. And what more fitting repertoire for a fine June morning than – Christmas carols! Well, there’s no point in recording Christmas carols in December in time for the Easter market, so, as the Worcester choristers work through their winter programme, we can only close our eyes and pretend that there is snow on the ground and berries on the holly.
The disembodied voice is that of Adam Binks, a founder of the Resonus label and producer, engineer and editor of this new disc. The sticking point is the word ‘gloir’ in the 16th-century Scots text of Richard Allain’s gentle lullaby Balulalow. Logic suggests that it should rhyme with ‘evermoir’ in the following couplet: ‘But I sall praise thee evermoir/With sanges sweit unto thy gloir.’ The choir had been singing something more akin to the French
‘gloire’. ‘This is where it becomes slightly inconsistent,’ says Binks. He and the conductor, Stephen Farr, have a discussion, finally settling on a pronunciation nearer to ‘glaw’. There’s a retake. Perfect. Nothing more to do on that one. They’re only half an hour into the session and already there is 1'50" of music in the can. We move on to I Sing of a Maiden, Matthew Martin’s 2010 setting of the 15th-century hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The sopranos float their first line beautifully; altos and tenors join in with rapt euphony. At the end, Stephen Farr addresses the basses, saying, ‘There was a bit of target practice there’ – meaning that the tuning had gone slightly awry. They nod in
‘On a fine June morning we can only close our eyes and pretend there is snow on the ground and berries on the holly’
14 GRAMOPHONE DECEMBER 2012