Three Christmas carols you may not have heard before

As a sometime treble and adult chorister, music plays a big part in the spirit of Christmas. However, it’s possible to get tired of the same repertoire being used over and over again. Yes, I know Rutter’s a genius, but – dare I say it? – a lot of his work is pretty tedious and formulaic, mass-produced for choirs of average ability to churn out with their eyes closed.

So I thought I’d present my three favourite Christmas carols for no particular reason other than I love them and you may not have heard them before.

1. O Adonai by Roderick Williams

Oh, how I love Roderick Williams. I first came across him when our choir was asked to sing with Paco Peña in a performance of his Requiem for the Earth. And Roderick sang the brief baritone solo that forms part of one of the movements. So I was pleased to learn that he’s a composer too.

His O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel was on a CD that a friend lent me and it’s the standout track of that compilation. He creates an enormous soundscape from a simple element, sung by a solo soprano, that builds to incorporate the entire choir and then fades away into nothingness. I imagine it’s fantastically hard to sing well.

You can hear it here.

2. Away in a Manger by Sir John Tavener

We all know Away in a Manger. David Willcocks wrote a wonderful arrangement with a lovely lyrical tenor line, but most often we end up singing it in unison as a congregation hymn. So it’s a bit surprising that John Tavener came across the words long before he came across the music. When he did finally hear the music, he felt that it was wrong; it didn’t fit the words properly.

Hence his version, which is uniquely Tavener. It turns its three verses into something that manages to be completely timeless and beautiful. You’ll never want to go back to the other versions again.

You can hear it here.

3. What Sweeter Music by John Rutter

Having slammed Rutter in my introduction, I’ll forgive him for What Sweeter Music. Written for King’s, it is starting to find its way into the modern repertoire. It’s far from ‘classic Rutter’. It’s a lot harder, to begin with, and it develops a more complex set of harmonies rather than sticking to one throughout.

Of the three in my list, you may have heard this one before (I’d say “stop me” except this is the end of the list in any case).

You can hear it here.

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