Christmas from the Chapel Royal Resonus

Christmas from the Chapel Royal
Rufus Frowde (organ)
Choir of HM Chapel Royal Hampton Court Palace/Carl Jackson
rec. 2023, Chapel Royal, Hampton Court, UK
Resonus RES10327 [67]

Many choirs like to produce a Christmas disc every so often, and they record in the heat of June or July, but this choir has not done so for quite some time. For commercial appeal, the repertoire needs a popular element, but the choir must also lay down its mark with something different. One might prefer a very recent arrangement or carol, or even a commission or a piece by the organist or the conductor. This disc ticks all of those boxes, as the contents list attests.

Let me highlight what I feel gives this album its character. It was an inspired idea to begin with a beautiful carol by the Ukrainian composer Vasyl Barvinsky, with the divinely pure solo treble of Theodore Butcher. He is also the soloist in Stephen Jackson’s wonderful Noël nouvelet, which is, we read, quite a favourite with the choir.

The pieces by organist Rufus Frowde are especially distinctive, with a very personal language. Adam lay ybounded gets an unusually wistful air. It is also a fine idea to prefix O Come all ye faithful with his brief organ fanfare based on it. Martin Hindmarsh is currently a ‘Gentleman of the Choir’. It adds another individual touch to have his sensitively composed Of a rose we sing. And Frowde reappears in David Bedard’s delightful Variations on ‘In dulci jubilo.

Some composers are at their most original and striking as arrangers. This is true of Andrew Smith. His Veni Emmanuelfor men’s voices, written for New York Polyphony in 2011, demonstrates a composer deeply immersed in plainchant and medieval music but with occasional striking dissonances.

Traditional carols include a very sensitive setting of the Coventry Carol, arranged by the great choral conductor of the late twentieth century Louis Halsey, and the aforementioned O Come all ye Faithful. Martin Hindmarsh reappears with his arrangement entitled Kings of Orient, otherwise ‘We Three Kings’; it would be great for a reasonable parish choir with its solo verses. This has been especially composed for this recording.

Also written for this programme are Francis Grier’s three settings for six male voices: The Christmas Rose with words by Cecil Day Lewis; I saw a stable, a short setting of Elizabeth Coleridge; and Moonless darkness, a wonderful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Except for the final bars of the latter, these are haunting and solemn settings with much chromatic writing. They did not appeal to me, but like everything on this disc the performances are of the highest quality. Carl Jackson has led the twenty-strong all male choir since 1996. He has developed a sound which perfectly suits the acoustic and the demands of a choir such as this.

It all adds up to a programme with much variety. It should please most listeners, unless one wants completely traditional carols. The only oddity, I feel, is that the disc ends with a rather weak and ordinary carol, William Harold Ferguson’s From the eastern mountains’; it is a bit parish-choir.

The choir’s diction is generally excellent, but one gets all the texts anyhow. There is Christian Goursand’s good essay in which each piece is mentioned, though not in the order on the disc.

Gary Higginson

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music

Vasyl Barvinsky (1888-1963)
Shcho to za predivo (Oh, what a wonder)
Martin Hindmarsh (b.1952)
Of a rose sing we
Andrew Carter (b.1939)
Angelus ad virginem
David Wilcocks arr (1919-2015)
God rest you merry, gentlemen.
Paul Edwards (b.1955)
No small wonder
Rufus Frowde (b.1978)
Adam lay ybounden
Stephen Jackson arr. (b.1951)
Noël nouvelet
Philip Moore (b.1943)
Variations: Noël nouvelet (for organ)
Rufus Frowde
Joyful and Triumphant (Fanfare on ‘Adeste Fidelis’)
John Francis Wade (1711-1786)
arr. David Wilcocks and Christopher Robinson (b.1936)
O Come all ye Faithful)
George McPhee (b.1937)
Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing?
William Mathias (1934-1992)
A babe is born Op 55
David Bedard (b.1950)
Variations sur ‘In dulci jubilo’
Francis Grier (b.1955)
The Christmas Rose
I saw a stable
Moonless darkness
Martin Hindmarsh arr. 
Three Kings of Orient
Louis Halsey (b.1929)
Coventry Carol
Andrew Smith (b.1970)
Veni Emmanuel
William Harold Ferguson (1874-1950)
From the eastern mountains