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.
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