In this new collection of Christmas choral music, composer Brian Knowles sets traditional texts to new music, and shares some of his original words and music written over the last 30 odd years including the comical ‘Skydiving’ concerning angels putting on an aeronautical skills display, and the jazz inspired ‘Rejoice And Be Merry’.
Having studied composition at the Royal Academy under John Gardner, Knowles then started the band Saffron, and later became the musical director to the well known singer/songwriter Roger Whittaker. A number of these original carols were written while Knowles was composer in residence at Royal School, Haslemere, which is already a good sign because, as Knowles notes himself, school pupils are very picky!
Performing these carols are the Celestia Singers, accompanied by Celestia Brass and pianist Rebecca Taylor, and conducted by David Ogden. Though their debut concert was only two months before the recording of this CD, Celestia produce an incredibly coherent, united sound that one would expect from a more more mature group.
Represented on this CD are a wide variety of styles, yet all clearly written in the spirit of giving, celebration, and, of course, Christmas. This means however you celebrate Christmas, or whatever music you tend to gravitate towards, you will find something you connect with on this album.
A particular favourite of mine is the funky setting of We Three Kings, with musical theatre style piano accompaniment, foot tapping syncopation and festive brass interjections to which one can’t help but swing along. This is reportedly also a favourite of the Royal School, Haslemere, being sung by demand every year for 30 years!
By contrast track 7, Soft Lullaby, relaxes the listener with a gentle layered texture, grounded by a tenor drum and pedal note on low strings, gradually swelling in volume and intensity to produce a radiant soundscape with almost plainsong like qualities.
With so many identical Christmas albums to choose from, it is refreshing to listen to one which combines both excellent musicianship and such variation of compositional styles, uniquely enriching the listening experience by so clearly demonstrating the joy Knowles found writing them.