I'm a wee bit out of season reviewing this DVD in September,but it was amongst a batch of classical items that my local retailer was offering at seriously reduced prices.Needless to say my wallet was out faster than you could say "Silent night",and I hastily hauled it back to my Highland hideout.
Now,I've been a regular listener to the "Festival of nine lessons and carols" for many years now,and it's been my wont to spend Christmas Day wandering the snowy hills and glens near my home.Come 3pm I make quite sure to tune my portable radio (a very good Roberts "R972" if you are in the market for excellent broadcast sound on the move !) into the BBC to catch the solo (must surely rank as one of the most nerve-wracking program openings of all time !) treble's first ethereal annunciation of "Once in royal David's city".It always gives me Goosebumps and strangely this lone voice from one of England's greatest Christian chapels is quite simply the catalyst "sine qua non" that makes you (wherever in the world you may be ) feel that Christmas Day is truly upon you,and it's impossible to envisage a future festive season from which this absolute institution will be absent.
Until now,I've just had to use my imagination to actually visualise the service as it takes place in the incomparably beautiful King's College Chapel,Cambridge.Therefore,what an absolute treat to sit back and watch this beautifully presented disc,and finally see the choir and clergy stand ready for the procession in front of the glorious painting,"Adoration of the Magi" by Rubens.It's almost worth while pressing "pause" right there and then and just admiring that gorgeous still image for about half an hour or so ! In fact,you might just wear out that pause button because there is a host of sumptuous images to come and despite the fairly restricted camera angles available due to the unusually long oblong shape of the chapel,we get some stunning shots of the windows and plenty of that near-miraculous "fan-vaulted" roof that apart from defying gravity almost defies belief that it was actually built (in 3 short years from 1512-15) by human hands.
Forgive me if I leave the technical and scholarly analysis of the actual singing (glorious,in my humble opinion)to other reviewers with rather more of a musical education than I've experienced,and just tell you that I found the whole viewing of this year 2000 service a most moving and marvellous experience,despite the fact that I was watching it almost exactly three months out of season.Amongst several highlights for me was the lovely rendition of "In the bleak mid-winter".Naturally it's the Rossetti poem we all know and love,but perhaps the arrangement by Harold Darke (the choir's conductor during the war years) is not the usual one that you,or I are most familiar with.Nevertheless,it's quite gorgeous and I really thought the choir sung as a completely integrated body in this particular carol.Also particularly affecting was the touching rendition of the anonymous (set to music by B.Chilcott) "Shepherd's Carol".There is that lovely line in the second verse "Silence more lovely than music" ,which as a sentiment is completely disproved by the beautifully floated delivery from our talented choristers !
There is a menu option that allows you to cut out all the readings and spoken parts and just listen to the music in sequence,but useful as this is,I think it's a shame to so drastically edit the service as broadcast,and besides the delivery of the various college and city representatives are attractively earnest and sincere.One big surprise was the appearance of the renowned singer Robert Tear (himself a former choral scholar at King's and now Honorary Fellow) who read (most effectively) a poem by William Drummond.
The two superb bonus items on this DVD are the fascinating "time-capsule", first ever TV broadcast of the service from 1954 when Boris Ord was Director of music.The sound is understandably a bit "care-worn" but when the quality of performance is as good as this it doesn't really matter,and your ears soon adjust to the audio soundworld of nearly half a century ago.Amazing to see the iron control that Ord has over the choir and this seems to be a hypnotic rather than physical influence on his part.
The second bonus is a most civilised and charmingly courteous conversation between the three most recent Directors of Music that takes place in the studious and scholarly atmosphere of a room overlooking the college quad.The legendary Sir David Willcocks and the only slightly less legendary Sir Philip Ledger and Stephen Cleobury (Director of the 2000 service) gently reminisce about their respective periods in charge of the choir.I found it fascinating to listen in on their shared anecdotes and it really gave me some good insights on the pleasures,pitfalls and profound pride that is involved in running such a national choral treasure.
I can wholeheartedly recommend and endorse this Christmas "cracker" of a DVD to you,and quite honestly,if it has the effect of putting me in the festive mood on September the 25th;then just imagine what it will do for you on the day itself !