Simply medieval

20 October 2010

Ronald Corp reviews a new choral work for Christmas


CAROL SEQUENCES for upper voices are always useful, and make a good companion piece to Britten’s ever popular A Ceremony of Carols.

Malcolm Archer’s Nowell! Nowell! (RSCM, £6.95) is one such sequence, and comes with an introductory plainsong melody, Puer natus est nobis, which may be sung un­accompanied and in procession. This is offered as a final number, too, in direct imitation of the Britten. But here the main accompaniment is for piano or orchestra (the vocal score does not indicate what forces are required), and not for harp as in the Britten. I guess that individual items could be per-formed separately, and any of them would fit very nicely into a carol concert.

The carols are all attractive and very well written for reasonably experienced choristers. The work was commissioned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Badminton School, Bristol, in 2008. There are nine carol settings of medieval words, including well-known texts such as “Out of your sleep”, “The Cherry Tree Carol”, “This Endris Night”, and “Balu­la-low”.

The choral writing blossoms into three parts at some point, although I was particularly haunted by the unison setting of the Dutch carol “O Sion’s daughter, where art thou?” This item is perhaps typical of the musical language, which is straight­forward and undemanding.

In fact, in the whole sequence there is nothing to challenge the ears. I would have welcomed some oc­casional astringency in the harmonic palette or even some quirkiness in the vocal writing. Most of the melodies sound as though they are traditional tunes, and the harmon-ies rarely stray from the con­ventional.

This is not a bad thing in itself, but the blurb on the back cover describes the work as “stunning” and remarks on the work’s “melodic invention” and “rhythmic intensity”, which, I think, overstates Archer’s modest intentions.

Available from RSCM Music: email or phone 0845 021 7726. There is a discount of 25 per cent for RSCM affiliates.  

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Lift up your hearts download

Weekly spiritual sustenance from the Church Times. Download the free PDF to print at home:

No. 9 | 22 May 2020

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)