Musical Christmas Celebration from The Sixteen – plus Two!


United KingdomUnited Kingdom  The Sixteen at Christmas: The Sixteen / Harry Christophers (conductor), St. David’s Hall, Cardiff. 6.12.2012 (PCG)

Josquin des Prez:  Praeter rerum siderum: O Virgo prudentissima
William Byrd:  Lullaby my sweet little baby
Jean Mouton:  Nesciens mater
Thomas Ravencroft:  Remember, O thou man
Orlande de Lassus:  Magnificat Praeter rerum siderum
Herbert Howells:  Sing lullaby: A spotless rose
Arthur Oldham:  Remember, O thou man
Kenneth Leighton:  Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child
Traditional:  This is the truth sent from above (arr Vaughan Williams): Rocking (arr Willcocks): Coventry Carol: There is no rose: Wexford Carol

This was an original and well-contrasted programme juxtaposing early Renaissance settings of Nativity texts with traditional carols and some modern settings. The eighteen singers produced plenty of volume when required, as in the double-choir spread across the stage in the Mouton motet Nesciens mater, but also gave us lots of subtlety and delicacy. The performances, as one would expect from this choir, were faultless apart from one minor slip from the basses in the long des Prez motet O Virgo prudentissima. This could well be attributed to a feeling of unease with the hall itself. The antiseptic acoustic of St David’s produced some rather clinical singing especially in the first half of the programme, while the singers were becoming accustomed to the sound; one might have wished that this concert could have been given in the more resonant Llandaff Cathedral (where one noticed the next Sixteen concert in Cardiff is scheduled). Later the problems were triumphantly overcome, transporting the listener to some abbey or other provided that one kept one’s eyes shut.

One very minor point: the singers in There is no rose persistently pronounced the word “virtue” in the modern fashion (“ver-tyoo”) as opposed to the mediaeval manner (“ver-too”), which jarred slightly when rhymed with “Jesu”. On the other hand the rather indistinct delivery of the words of Rocking was perhaps a blessing. The text of this carol is credited in the Oxford Book of Carols to a translation from the original Czech by “OBC” – the author of such lines as “darling, darling little man” evidently deciding (correctly) to remain anonymous. Elsewhere the diction was excellent, with some very subtle colouring in the sudden hush at phrases like “sanctum nomen eius” in the Lassus Magnificat.

The traditional carols were all given nicely considered performances, although to have all five strophic verses of the Wexford carol given in the same harmonisation (by Martin Shaw from the Oxford Book of Carols) was perhaps too much. Vaughan Williams did not make that mistake in his The truth sent from above where he varied the setting from verse to verse; although there are similarities, this is at the same quite a different treatment from that he gave to the tune in his Fantasia on Christmas carols. In the original 1591 setting of the Coventry Carol the choir gave a nicely bruising touch to the discords in the harmonization which still, after more than four hundred years, have the power to shock.

In the more modern works, the juxtaposition of Arthur Oldham’s setting of Ravenscroft’s words in Remember, O thou man did not show to best advantage against the author’s own setting – Oldham’s use of more contrasted tempi sounded more contrived than convincing. Leighton’s setting of the Coventry Carol was done superbly, and Julie Cooper floated her solo lines with angelic grace. Best of all were the two Howells settings, both gems which made one long for the third of the set.

The choir concluded with no less than three encores, all traditional carol settings which sent the audience away happy. It was a pity that the upper parts of the hall were so empty. This same programme is being repeated in Battersea (8 December), Reading (9 December), Queen Elizabeth Hall (10 December) and Oxford (20 December). I would urge all readers to make an effort to attend these.


Paul Corfield Godfrey



Print Friendly


Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

  • NEW! LA Opera Announces
 2016/17 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Thirteen LCDS EDge Dancers Prepare for Spring/Summer Tour __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates 70 years of excellence __________________________________
  • NEW! SJSS announces Principal Sound Festival – A celebration of the music of Morton Feldman. 1- 4 April __________________________________
  • NEW! British Musical Stars are Heading for Garsington Opera Festival 2016 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Australian Ballet at London Coliseum in 2016 __________________________________
  • NEW! Wagner’s epic Ring conditioned with comedy and shrunk to one evening as The Rinse Cycle __________________________________
  • NEW! The Barbican’s Artist Spotlight in 2015/16 is on Celebrated Soprano Renée Fleming __________________________________
  • NEW! Welsh National Opera Brings a Seasonal Operatic Treat to the Stage __________________________________
  • NEW!  Ambition And Modern For Teatro Colón 2016 Season (JSJ) __________________________________
  • NEW! The Salzburg Festival 2016 Unveiled __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! Ballet Gala in Memory of Maya Plisetskaya at the London Coliseum on Sunday 6 March __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra appoints Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla as Music Director __________________________________
  • NEW! The Barbican’s Artist Spotlight in 2015/16 is on Celebrated Soprano Renée Fleming __________________________________
  • NEW! Entering the Eclectic Universe of Pianist Stephen Hough __________________________________
  • NEW! Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of ENB, Awarded a CBE for her Services to Ballet __________________________________
  • NEW! Music Theatre Wales Celebrates as Artistic Directors are Awarded MBEs __________________________________
  • NEW! From Havana, a Snapshot of Cuban Music __________________________________
  • NEW! Reflections on the 2015 Chopin Competition  __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pianist of Willesden Lane to Receive UK Première __________________________________
  • Reviews by Reviewer

    Monhtly Archives

    Search S&H