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1 Worcester College Choir with their music director Stephen Farr recording in the resonant acoustic of Keble College Chapel, Oxford 2 Stephen Farr also features as an organist on the new album 3 Music director Stephen Farr pays close attention to the score to perfect every detail in the recording of these contemporary carols


agreement, vowing to do better next time, and I think to myself, ‘Why is it always us basses who get the blame?’ There is a bit more banter over the intercom between Binks and Farr, a couple more takes of this and that, then a complete performance. But what’s this? Is Oxford stirring? A car revs up loudly outside the chapel in the very final bars. But no matter. The ending has already been approved on a previous take. Time for a 15-minute break. Worcester College’s choir are fielding 23 voices for this recording – eight sopranos, five altos (three female, two male), four tenors and six basses; among the basses is college chaplain the Revd Dr Jonathan Arnold, who for many years was a regular member of The Sixteen. Their Christmas programme is drawn from carols composed in the latter part of the 20th century and the early years of this one, by British composers or composers who have lived in Britain. Three of them – Edmund Rubbra, Kenneth Leighton and Thomas Hyde – are strongly associated with the college, but the selection ranges widely through Oxford and non-Oxford composers, including Malcolm Williamson, Judith Bingham, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Geoffrey Bush and Gabriel Jackson. It’s to the Bermuda-born Jackson’s Hush! My Dear that the choir return after coffee and fresh air. This is a lullaby full of those ‘succulent, smoky harmonies’ that Keble chapel’s acoustics accommodate so tenderly, and it sounds gorgeous from my perch in the choir stalls. But the control room has a much better aural perspective, and the balance needs to be adjusted. ‘And don’t attack the word “hush”,’ says Binks.

Hyde’s Sweet Was the Song is next on the list. The choir sing it all the way through, but the take is ruined by a peal of bells from St Giles’ Cathedral and then by a helicopter whirring overhead. Oxford is certainly waking up now, and it seems a good time to stop for lunch. ‘That was great,’ says Binks, ‘but there are just a couple of little things…’

This Christmas Night, released by Resonus Classics, is reviewed on page 83



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