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Quire Cleveland | Carols for Quire from the Old & New Worlds, Vol. 3

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Holiday: Classical Classical: Choral Music Moods: A Cappella
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Carols for Quire from the Old & New Worlds, Vol. 3

by Quire Cleveland

This recording is a celebration of favorite English and American choral music for Christmas, pairing compositions from the past 100 years with earlier musical settings of the same or related lyrics.
Genre: Holiday: Classical
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Alleluia: A Newë Work (Live)
3:10 $0.99
2. Alleluia: A Newe Work (1952) [Live]
2:01 $0.99
3. The Coventry Carol (1534) [Live]
4:16 $0.99
4. The Coventry Carol (1956) [Live]
2:57 $0.99
5. Jesus Christ the Apple Tree (1805) [Live]
2:36 $0.99
6. Jesus Christ the Apple Tree (1967) [Live]
2:44 $0.99
7. The Lamb (1927) [Live]
2:33 $0.99
8. The Lamb (1982) [Live]
2:51 $0.99
9. Es Ist Ein' Ros (1607) [Live]
1:36 $0.99
10. A Spotless Rose (1919) [Live]
2:47 $0.99
11. A Spotless Rose (2010) [Live]
4:02 $0.99
12. Kentucky (Ohio) Wassail Song [Live]
1:18 $0.99
13. Wassail Song (1913) [Live]
2:40 $0.99
14. Of One That Is so Fair and Bright (Live)
2:42 $0.99
15. A Hymn to the Virgin (1930) [Live]
2:54 $0.99
16. The Holly and the Ivy (Live)
2:08 $0.99
17. The Holly and the Ivy (1913) [Live]
2:54 $0.99
18. O Nata Lux (1575) [Live]
1:22 $0.99
19. Lux Aurumque (2009) [Live]
3:12 $0.99
20. Stille Nacht (1818) [Live]
4:56 $0.99
21. In the Bleak Midwinter (1906) [Live]
4:23 $0.99
22. Procedenti Puero (Live)
1:33 $0.99
23. Benedicamus Domino (1918) [Live]
1:21 $0.99
24. What Cheer, To a Ground (Live)
1:37 $0.99
25. What Cheer (1961) [Live]
1:16 $0.99
26. (I'm Spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica [1990] [Live]
2:31 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
This program pairs some of the exquisite standards of the 20th-century English Christmas repertoire with another work, either on the exact same text, or on a related one. In this way, we hear how composers of different eras or generations were differently inspired by the same sentiment.

The modern version of “Alleluia: a newë work” is a choral tour de force, composed in 1952 by Peter Wishart. Wishart was born in Crowborough, a Sussex town that was a favorite holiday spot for my mother’s family, during the time that Wishart was a young lad there. Rapidly overlapping entries and sophisticated counter-rhythms, combined with luscious chord clusters make this a brilliant fanfare for the opening of a program. Before Wishart, we sing the original, anonymous setting of the lyric, from a 15th-century manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The burden, or refrain, heard at the beginning and between each stanza, consists entirely of repeated “Alleluia”s, first in a two-voice texture, then repeated in a three-voice texture. The verses also present lines by soloists, reinforced immediately by the chorus, as Wishart does in his setting. Of the six original stanzas, the medieval version uses two and Wishart uses three.

“The Coventry Carol’ gets its name from the Shearmen & Tailors Pageant, a religious play presented annually by Coventry tradesmen in the 16th century. The song has been attributed to Robert Croo, from 1534, but the early source was a copy of the play from 1591, which was destroyed in a fire in 1879. The only extant version of the early piece is an 1825 edition by Thomas Sharp. Although the piece may have been crudely composed, certain aspects of Sharp’s transcription led me to believe that he may have misread some aspects of the original notation (with no way to check that now). I have therefore reconstructed what I think may have been the original version, regularizing some of the metrical features and adding a missing tenor voice. That early version is paired with Kenneth Leighton’s lilting 1956 setting, with its soaring soprano solo. Both settings present three stanzas of the lullaby, but with the middle verse decrying Herod’s massacre of the innocents.

Next are two settings of “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.” The original poem and Ingalls’s 1805 setting show seven verses, but how all verses are to be set to the music is not clear, and indeed, verse 5 is often omitted in performance. In fact, Elizabeth Poston omits verses 5 & 6 in her sweet 1967 setting. She attributes the lyric to Joshua Smith, a New Hampshire Baptist minister, from a hymn collection of 1784, whereas we now know it was first printed in London in 1761 and signed by “R. H.” The music to Ingalls’s setting is based on the Quick March from the pantomime, Oscar and Malvina, produced at Covent Garden, London, in 1791. William Shield was the composer, but left the score to be completed by William Reeve, and it’s unclear which of them composed the Quick March.

“The Lamb” is a poem from “Songs of Innocence and Experience” (1789) by William Blake. The lyric plays on the multiple identifications of a lamb as a baby sheep, a young child, and Jesus, the “Lamb of God.” It may have been intended to be sung, but there are no musical settings from Blake’s time. We present two settings from the 20th century, beginning with a 1927 piece by Charles Wood, an Anglo-Irishman from Armagh, and the famous 1982 setting by Sir John Tavener. Tavener’s “Lamb” was composed in honor of his nephew’s third birthday, again emphasizing the connection to a young child. Wood sets the two stanzas in a straightforward strophic setting in the 19th-century tradition. Tavener plays on the innocence of the lamb by featuring only high voices at the beginning, using basically the same music for the second stanza. The doubling of low voices for this second stanza gives a much different musical impression. Tavener’s delicious dissonance contrasts sharply with the harmonic lushness of Wood’s setting.

Rather than a pair, the next set includes three pieces. Michael Prætorius’s 1607 “Es ist ein’ Ros” is a Christmas classic, which appears on our first “Carols for Quire” CD (QC 101). The second CD of “Carols for Quire” (QC 102) includes Herbert Howell’s exquisite 1919 setting of that same lyric, as translated in 1869 by the English hymn writer, Catherine Winkworth (1827–1878). With its heartfelt baritone solo, Howell’s setting is gorgeous. But in November 2012, I heard Tenebrae Choir perform a more recent setting of Winkworth’s translation, as part of a larger work by the contemporary composer Paul Mealor. It’s so different in style from the Howells, and so stunning with its angelic high soprano and sepulchral low bass parts.

“Wassail” is both an ancient toast — meaning something like “Good health!” — and also a mulled cider that was drunk as part of “wassailing” festivities, typically on the Twelfth Night of Christmas. The age-old practice of wassailing exists as a folk tradition in many parts of the United Kingdom, even today. Some wassail song versions made their way to North America, and the first one here was collected by Kentuckian composer and balladeer, John Jacob Niles, as “The Kentucky Wassail.” I have created a harmonized version and changed the words slightly to make it more appropriate for Ohio, since Kentucky did not have much claim on the lyrics in the first place! That song is paired with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s 1913 joyful setting of the Gloucestershire “Wassail,” perhaps the most famous of all the local wassail traditions.

Benjamin Britten’s 1930 “Hymn to the Virgin” features one choir in English, answered by a second choir in Latin. This is based on a macaronic poem (lyrics in English and Latin) from around 1300, but unfortunately that original poem survives without any associated melody. The unusual versification of the lyric, however, matches very closely another hymn to the Virgin from the same time period, “Edi beo thu,” which survives as a two-voice musical setting in a manuscript of around the same date. I therefore fit the poem, “Of one that is so fair and bright,” to the music of “Edi beo thu,” providing a period musical setting for the lyric. The imagery in the two early poems is so similar that it seems possible that some medieval musician might have made the same connection!

Walford Davies’s lovely setting of “The holly and the ivy” appears also on our second Carols CD [QC 102]. I was aware that Davies had arranged the piece, but never quite sure of his source. What I found was that one of the earliest musical versions of the lyric seems to be in the Herefordshire folk tradition, so I harmonized that song attempting to be true to the spirit of the piece.

American Eric Whitacre is probably the most successful choral composer living today; his “Virtual Choir” of 2009 was an internet sensation, and the piece that made it famous was “Lux Aurumque.” It sets an Edward Esch (b.1970) poem, “Light and gold,” which Whitacre admired and had translated into Latin for the purpose. Featuring 185 singers online from twelve different countries, and viewed over three million times, “Lux Aurumque” has textural elements reminiscent of Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Lux æterna,” made famous by its use in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” We pair it here with an earlier Lux piece of transcendent simplicity, “O nata lux,” by Thomas Tallis. The chord clusters of Whitacre are foreshadowed by Tallis’s pungent cross-relations — simultaneous occurrences of notes like C and C-sharp, or F and F-sharp.

“In the bleak midwinter,” the touching 1906 carol by Gustav Holst, is one of the most beloved of Christmas selections. Since there is no earlier setting of Christina Rossetti’s 1872 poem (and since Harold Darke’s famous setting was only three years later), I have paired it with another iconic Christmas carol that features the cold stillness of winter, “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”), composed around 1818 by Franz Gruber. Our arrangement is based on the earliest surviving version of the piece.

Peter Warlock (the nom de plume of Philip Heseltine) was an Anglo-Welsh composer, who developed a keen interest in historical English music. While known for his songs written in the Renaissance lutesong tradition, “Benedicamus Domino” shows his awareness of even earlier English styles, with passages in the distinctive parallel first-inversion chords of 15th-century fauxbourdon (or faburden, as the English called it), along with some more up-to-date harmonies. In spite of its title, the work actually begins “Procedenti puero …” and that is the name of a conductus found in two manuscripts of the 13th century which, presumably, furnished Warlock’s lyric. I have harmonized its monophonic melody, using techniques from the 13th-century four-voice conductus repertoire.

Our final pair uses a poem, “What cheer? Good cheer!” found in a Balliol College, Oxford, manuscript now known as the Richard Hill Commonplace Book (1500–33). Commonplace books were simply blank books, in which individuals wrote poems, reflections, and other sayings they wanted to remember or carry with them — a manuscript “mix list,” if you will. Peter Warlock had published a unison setting of this lyric in 1928, but we are presenting William Walton’s whimsical setting from 1961. Hill included no music in his commonplace book, and there are no musical sources for it from the 16th century. However, the lyric fits perfectly to the well-known Elizabethan tune “Greensleeves.” I have set it to the earlier, duple version of that melody, mostly quoting the tune used by William Byrd in one of his six-voice fantasies for viols.

The encore to this program is a nod to another holiday that usually occurs in December, plus all of the other Jewish holidays throughout the year. This choral setting of Tom Lehrer’s “(I’m spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica” was arranged — with the blessing of the composer himself — by Quire’s Jewish contingent.

Notes by Ross W. Duffin



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