I tire easily of Christmas music — especially the traditional carols. Part of the reason is that I’ve heard the same overblown arrangements (and variations thereof) over and over. That’s what made this new Albion release so refreshing. It gets back to basics, and let me hear these pieces as Ralph Vaughan Williams intended when he set them.
Vaughan Williams was one of the music editors for the 1928 Oxford Book of Carols. The intent was to provide well-written four-part settings of English carols for church choirs and congregations to use. The settings may be simple, but they’re not simplistic.
That same aesthetic applied when Vaughan Williams contributed TTBB carol settings for British troops to sing in 1941. And it’s also true of his 1919 settings for eight traditional English carols.
Some of these carols are quite familiar as seasonal songs, others as English folk tunes. The stripped-down versions heard in this recording reconnects them with their humble origins. Like stripping layers of paint off an old chair can reveal the beauty of the wood, the Chapel Choir under William Vann’s direction reveal the naked beauty of these tunes.
I recommend this recording not only to those who love English choral music but for anyone who appreciates fine choral writing. Vaughan Williams settings may sound simple, but they reveal the heart of their material. And that’s no simple task.
A Vaughan Williams Christmas
Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea
Hugh Rowlands, organ
William Vann, director
Albion Records ALBCD035