Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Christmas Carols; The First Nowell; On Christmas Night

COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Fantasia on Christmas Carols; The First Nowell; On Christmas Night
PERFORMER: Sarah Fox (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), Joyful Company of Singers, City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10385
‘The mere mention of Christmas inspired him,’ it was said of Vaughan Williams late in life. ‘He had a passion for carols.’ Of the three results of that passion here, the familiar 1912 Fantasia is recorded for the first time with its alternative orchestration for strings and organ – though, wisely, still with the bells near the end. On Christmas Night, a 1926 ballet score which fits traditional carols and dance tunes to the story of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, is also a premiere recording. The First Nowell, a nativity play left unfinished at RVW’s death in 1958 and completed by Roy Douglas, is given in its cut-down version, a suite of carol arrangements.

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On home ground here, Richard Hickox obtains excellent performances from his own City of London Sinfonia, the fresh-voiced Joyful Company of Singers, and two fine soloists. Good sound, too – though Roderick Williams’s Watchman should surely have been offstage in On Christmas Night. Listening to the disc straight through is perhaps not a good idea, as several favourite melodies recur in all three pieces, albeit in fresh treatments. But taken one piece at a time, it offers all lovers of RVW’s music some delightful Christmas listening. Anthony Burton