6 December Bob Chilcott

Chilcott: The Rose in the Middle of Winter by Various, Matthew Berry, Commotio, Richard Pearce, Tanya Houghton, Laurie Ashworth, Josie Simmons, Alice James, Tim Elton

Bob Chilcott's carols will divide listeners, says Charlotte Gardner. Some will love his modern reworkings, others may find them just too sweet.

Label: Naxos

Rating 3

Product details

As a former chorister and choral scholar of Kings College, Cambridge, Bob Chilcott has had carols on his musical radar since boyhood. As a result he's one of the few contemporary composers to produce a significant number of them. Such a background carries some baggage with it too, though. After all, the moment during the famous Christmas Eve service from Kings when the choir perform their newly commissioned carol is one that almost crackles with the tension of 'How will this be received?'. Chilcott knows better than most that there is no such thing as a contemporary carol that pleases everyone, and perhaps this is one of the reasons why he spreads the stylistic net so wide himself.

Certainly, this disc demonstrates the fact that there’s no such thing as a typical Bob Chilcott carol, even if the overall impression is of a festive feast of Rutter-esque big-fluffy-blanket harmonies and modulations. Those who prefer to go light on the schmaltz will appreciate the more interesting harmonies and rhythms of 'Les anges dans nos campagnes', 'The Rose in the Middle of Winter' and 'Before the Ice', which cleverly melds 'O magnum mysterium' (the Latin responsory for Christmas Day) with an Emily Dickinson poem. Others will gladly sink into the warmth of 'The Advent Candle' and 'The Shepherds Sing', which leaves no sentimental musical stone unturned. Opinion will divide over Chilcott’s new melodies for well-known carol texts, most particularly 'O Little Town of Bethlehem'. Some will hear this one as a warmly sympathetic update that makes wonderful old words relevant to 21st-century audiences. Others will think it's messing needlessly with a classic. Still, there are few who won’t warm to his sensitive reworking of 'In the Bleak Mid-Winter'. Commotio and Matthew Berry perform faultlessly, with arrestingly pure solo spots from soprano Laurie Ashworth.

Artists: Commotio/Matthew Berry

Charlotte Gardner is a contributor to the BBC Music website, Gramophone and theartsdesk.com.