I can't imagine the luxury of spending Christmas Eve seeing King's College Choir and Cleobury present their Christmas program, called "A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols". This is no ordinary show. Anyone can put on a Christmas program, but this one is so good that words can't describe it. Few choirs can rival King's ability to make Christmas carols remarkable, the Cambridge Singers and Chanticleer being the only ones I can think of. The sound of the choir is phenomenal; the boys in the choir come closer to sounding like angels than any other choir I've heard. In the carols that are so familiar that we could sing along the whole way through, they manage to say something new, which can't be said about all the Christmas CD's I've heard, at least not to the same extent. If you think that the reciting of Scripture is going to be drudgery, you're in for a surprise. There's something heartwarming about hearing the boys and men recite their texts with wonderful British accents. (Yes, I'm American.) The hall makes their voices boom.
Perhaps one of the best things about this disc is that while it features plenty of the old-time traditional carols, it sticks some wonderful new ones on, from Tavener, Rutter, and Ades. Rutter's "Dormi Jesu" knocked me over flat when I heard performed here. The purity of the boy's voices combined with yearning qualities in Rutter's music make this a must, particularly the very ending where Rutter takes us through some captivating harmonic changes. And Ades' Faryfax Carol is stunning in its own way. Much more modern in style than the Rutter, it evokes a world of mystery that is almost scary.
I should quickly comment on the recording quality. Some people pick on EMI for delivering second rate sound. There's times when this is true, but not here. In fact, the sonic thrills on this album make for one of its greatest pluses. The choir is captured wonderfully, balanced wonderfully with the organ. The organ playing by Benjamin Bayl is almost as good as the choir's singing, and I listened spell-bound to it captured in top quality sound.
In closing, this is a fantastic album that should brighten up the busy holiday season. Maybe sometime I'll be fortunate enough to attend this wonderful event live!