British Music Society

For over fifty years, the well-known recorder player, John Turner, has composed a carol and sent the score as his Christmas card greeting. Until now these had been private gifts to his friends, but now 23 of them have been recorded for this album, released in time for Christmas.

Mr Turner is not an avant-garde composer and all of these works are very much in the English choral tradition and will provide a welcome alternative to the market cornered by the often overly sentimental works by John Rutter. Presented by the chamber choir Intimate Voices (which also performs as Voces Intimae) and featuring sopranos Sasha Johnson Manning, Eleanor Gregory and Philippa Hyde in solo and duet pieces, with obbligato harp and oboe in some; they are sensitively recorded in an excellent warm acoustic.

The pieces are settings of traditional carol lyrics, ancient texts and verses of poetry and at mainly 2 or so minutes each they never outstay their welcome. Mr Turner’s take on well-known carols are fresh and interesting in their own right and one never finds oneself comparing them with the more familiar settings. I sing of a Maiden, appears twice one from 2003 and one from 2008. His take is very different in both. The 2003 setting is for the a capella group and is chant like and sectional, while the 2008 setting is written in a simple almost medieval way but with the feeling of a lullaby as a duet for two women accompanied by harp. Away in a manger, is set as a monody for soprano and harp and in its beautiful simplicity is far more affecting than the over used version we hear too often.

There is a strong modal feel to all the settings but the Rocking Hymn dedicated to the composer Ian Parrott and his wife Jeanne has the most folk like feel. There are some delightful false relations which seem to imitate the microtonal inflections of a true folk singer. The oboist could have picked up more of the tone of the soprano here but it is a most haunting setting and at near 4 ½ minutes the longest on the disc.

There is only one wholly instrumental work on the CD the Canzonetta for tenor recorder and harp and is undated, but appeared in a year when inspiration for a vocal setting failed him. It is however in the modal style of the other works on the disc, simply a carol without words.
Most of the works on the disc are slow but the final Make we Merry from 2012 is decidedly lively and has more than a hint of Mathias’ Sir Cristemas , it even ends with a final shout form the singers.

Perhaps it is because as a recorder player he understands the use of breath, but the vocal writing is entirely idiomatic and the players seem to be actually enjoying the music. This is a most lovely disc and a most welcome addition to the Christmas market and one that would grace anyone’s household over the festive season.

—Paul R SW Jackson