Bob Chilcott's Christmas Oratorio

This is about as Christmassy as it gets and with soloists and a choir like this, Chilcott's Christmas Oratorio is surely irresistible

Bob Chilcott's Christmas Oratorio

One could justifiably call Bob Chilcott's history regal, even perhaps kingly: he was a Chorister at King's College, Cambridge, and he then sang as part of the King's Singers. Chilcott also has a habit of taking on pieces whose titles are freighted with Bachly weight: first, his St John Passion of 2013; now. the Christmas Oratorio of 2019 (Bach of course wrote one - the Weihnachtsoratorium).

Chilcott's music is accessible and often beautiful. He is blessed with fine soloists here: a fabulous Evangelist in tenor Nick Pritchard, the always stunning Sarah Connolly and the strong bass Neal Davies.

The disc starts with a carol: Jesus Christ the apple tree, before launching into the Christ story. You can hear the third movement of the Christmas Oratorio, "Magnificat," here:

Sarah Connolly is in sublime voice, while Nick Pritchard makes a spell-binding Evangelist. Chilcott's delicate setting of "And it came to pass ...," voice against harp, is exquisite.

Chilcott's style of narration can be bright and breezy; very different from teh Bachian forefather! We har this at the beginning of Part II, where the Evangelist tells of the Angel (the Angel is Clara Williams, in fine, pure voice).

The peppering of the story with hymns (in the way Bach used chorales, perhaps) works well within a Christian English aesthetic. Chiclott uses his chorus characters, too (as the combined Wise Men in Part III, for instance).

There are moments of high beauty here, not least the Evangelist's "And when eight day were accomplished" (the beginning of the fourth part), where voice is heard with flute and harp (this latter a time-honoured combination that is always touching).

Neal Davies sings the Nunc dimities (heard here in English, 'Lord, now let they servant depart in peace'), not initially the most touching setting I have heard of this text, but it does rise to a significant climax well.

The choir of Merton College, Oxford cover themselves in glory; the Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia is a fine band. Chilcott's piece is perfect for the season, internally warming, its harmonies all aglow with Christmas fervour.

It is lovely to hear the Pear Tree Carol (the only track that has received a pervious recording), and to hear the sheer energy of the final "Welcomes" (Welcome, all wonders in one sight). This is about as Christmassy as it gets and with soloists and a choir like this, Chilcott's Christmas Oratorio is surely irresistible.