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Comfort And Joy

Comfort And Joy cover picture

The Saint Cecilia Singers

Director: Ian Ball
Organ: David Bednall
Gaudete! anon. arr. Ian Ball
Lo, he comes with clouds descending T. Oliver. Descant by Ian Ball
Alma redemptoris mater anon. English 15th-century, edited Ian Ball
Riu, riu, chiu ascribed to Mateo Flecha the elder
O little town of Bethlehem trad English. Descant by Iain Simcock
O magnum mysterium Francis Poulenc
Magnificat Ian Ball
A spotless rose Herbert Howells
Sing Lullaby Herbert Howells
Long the night Ukranian arr. Roy Massey
Ave Maria Johannes Brahms
Quem vidistis, pastores? Orlando di Lassus
Hark! the herald angels sing Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Descant by Richard Jeffrey-Gray
No small wonder Paul Edwards
In dulci jubilo Samuel Scheidt
Coventry Carol arr. Francis Grier
A Christmas Carol Herbert Howells
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer Johnny Marks, arr. Philip Colls
Have yourself a merry little Christmas Martin & Blane, arr. Ian Ball
God rest ye, merry gentlemen trad English. Descant by David Hill

Total playing time 67m 39s

Comfort And Joy

Comfort And Joy

The highlight of the St Cecilia Singers' year is the Christmas Concert in Gloucester Cathedral. The choir's home and principal venue since it was founded 52 years ago by Donald Hunt, then Assistant Organist, the Cathedral is a particularly magical place at Christmas. A loyal capacity audience enjoys the broadest possible repertoire, often sung from the farthest reaches of the building, adds their voices to the singing of hymns and carols, and listens to the challenging and often humourous readings which intersperse the music from choir and organ.

The music on this disc represents the breadth and variety of music featured at these popular annual concerts, and was recorded shortly after the 2000 Christmas Concert.

Gaudete! calls the people to rejoice at the birth of Christ. A lively dance with more than an air of folk music about it, this anonymous piece exists in various guises, and was made famous in the 'seventies by folk pop group Steeleye Span. It actually dates back to 1582, and is found in the collection Piae Cantiones.

The exciting expectation of Christ's coming is perfectly captured in Charles Wesley and John Cennick's hymn Lo! He comes with clouds descending. The soaring melody of Oliver's Helmsley always thrills, and is here topped by Ian Ball's descant for the final verse.

The first great flowering of the carol in England was during the late medieval period. The form used was that of alternating verses and burdens (refrains), the language usually being a mixture of Latin and English. Alma redemptoris mater is an anonymous setting by an unknown composer, here transcribed and transposed for soprano, alto and tenor solo voices. The verses tell of the Annunciation, Nativity, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Our Lord.

The medieval carol rarely strayed far from secular dance music. Riu, riu, chui is typical of this. A villancico, first appearing in a Spanish collection of anonymous polyphonic songs published in 1556, it uses a form and style that was originally secular. Like the English carol and Italian balata it is characterised by an alternating verse/refrain pattern. The phrase 'riu, riu, chiu' was a traditional call of Spanish shepherds guarding their flocks. Baritone Brian Pursey ably negotiates the obscure medieval Spanish of the verses.

The mystery and disturbing reality of the Incarnation is beautifully summarised in Bishop Brooks's O little town of Bethlehem. Usually sung to Forest Green, it enjoys justifiable popularity. The spine-tingling last verse descant was written by Iain Simcock when he was the Assistant Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral.

Francis Poulenc was one of France's most important twentieth-century composers. His music has recently enjoyed re-appraisal, but it has always been popular with choirs. O Magnum Mysterium belongs to a set of four Christmas motets written in 1952. A masterpiece in miniature, O Magnum gives full opportunity for expressive, heartfelt singing. Laying aside his characteristic and quirky humour, Poulenc sets the ancient text to dark yet ravishingly beautiful music.

Ian Ball, the St Cecilia Singers' Musical Director, wrote his Magnificat as his wife was pregnant with their second child, Rebecca. The opening in particular reflects the very physical 'butterflies' a mother feels as the unborn child grows. The work reflects too the contrasts and conflicts Mary must have felt in what surely must have been a reluctant acceptance of God's will. The style is decidedly French, with whiffs of plainchant, Messiaen's Mode 2 and the obvious influences of Duruflé, Ravel and Ian's teacher Naji Hakim. The virtuosic organ part is no mere accompaniment, and stretches both instrument and organist. A typically Parisian palette of Flûtes, Célestes, Voix Humaine and Fonds amplifies and enhances the choir's interpretation of the text, crowned by the glorious Gloucester tutti at the climax of the concluding fugato Gloria. The Gloucester Service from which Magnificat is taken is dedicated to David Briggs and Gloucester Cathedral Choir.

Howells and his music are no strangers to Gloucester. A native of the county, Howells was articled pupil to Sir Herbert Brewer and a devoted friend of war poet and composer Ivor Gurney (who was a chorister here) and composer Gerald Finzi. His famous Gloucester Service is in the repertoire of every cathedral choir in the land. A Spotless Rose and Sing Lullaby are two of his most frequently-performed carols. Both dating from early in his career, the influence of Vaughan Williams and English folk music is always present. The unique acoustic of Gloucester's 900 year-old cathedral was also surely uppermost in the composer's mind.

Howells's finest music is to be found in his songs. A songwriter to the core, Howells's appreciation of the English language, and skill at evoking mood, is matched only by Benjamin Britten among twentieth century composers. A Christmas Carol demonstrates this: a jocund text of quasi-Dickensian celebration is matched perfectly by a thoroughly logical melody and warm-hearted accompaniment.

A visiting Ukranian choir so impressed Dr Roy Massey at Hereford Cathedral recently that he transcribed and arranged one of their pieces. Set to a poem of Alick Rowe Long the Night is a haunting C minor melody, sung here by soprano Tina Power, accompanied by wordless chorus. The text describes the intimate love of Mary for her baby, and the stuff of nature that would be the agents of Christ's murder: the iron in the hills 'that men would beat into nails'; the thorn tree roots 'that men would twist to a crown' and the trees of the forest that would provide the wood of the cross. The contrasting actions of female and male are surely important here. Mary's voice of painful resignation has the last word.

Johannes Brahms was 25 when he wrote his Ave Maria Op 12 for female voices. During the previous year, 1857, he had accepted a post in the little court of Detmold, a good walking centre set in magnificent forest country. He spent three months at the end of each year there until 1860, and it was in the autumn of 1858, after completing his D minor piano concerto at Gšttingen, that Brahms wrote this charming, lilting piece. He had recently founded the Hamburg Ladies Choir, which performed with a string quartet, and furnished them with a sizeable repertory of the most sumptuous and beautiful music.

Flemish composer Orlando de Lassus is a giant among renaissance composers. One of the most prolific and versatile of 16th century composers, Lassus wrote over 2000 works in almost every current genre, including masses, motets, psalms, hymns, responsorial Passions and secular pieces in Italian, French and German. He was born at Mons, in Hainaut, in 1532, and as a boy entered the service of a member of the Gonzaga family, hereditary dukes of Mantua. Employment in Naples and a stay in Antwerp was followed by a position in the court of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria in Munich, where Lassus remained from 1556 until his death. Quem vidistis invites the shepherds to share the good news of Christ's birth. They respond with characteristic verve in this magnificent motet, typical of Lassus's style as it combines the serious austerity of old-style polyphony with infectious dance rhythms and surprising wrong-foot accents.

Richard Jeffrey-Gray is Associate Organist of Clifton (RC) Cathedral, Bristol. A recording engineer running his own business, he is a composer of considerable talent. Richard's anthems, hymns and descants for choir, brass and organ can always be relied upon to crown the grandest ceremonies at this striking thousand-seater 1970s cathedral. His descant to Mendelssohn's famous tune to Hark the Herald angels sing sidesteps the now-predictable Willcocksian modulations with striking originality.

A prolific composer of church music, Paul Edwards moved conductors, choirs and audiences alike when No small wonder was recently published. Indeed, the work seemed everywhere in December 2000, including the broadcast carol service from Kings College Cambridge. The words, composed specially by contemporary hymn writer Paul Wigmore, are simple, direct and powerful.

In dulci jubilo must surely be one of the most popular and enduring of the German medieval carols. This buoyant, macaronic motet exists in numerous vocal and instrumental settings made down the centuries. Samuel Scheidt was a typically cosmopolitan seventeenth-century composer, having been influenced by both his teacher Sweelinck (the great Dutch composer) and fashionable Italian composers such as Gabrieli and Monteverdi. The resulting music is a happy fusion of German, Dutch and Venetian styles, shot through with passion and vigour. In dulci jubilo first appeared in his Cantiones Sacrae of 1620, the first of several collections of vocal and instrumental music issued in the course of a career spent mainly as court and church composer in Halle. The composer's two optional high trumpet parts are here omitted.

Francis Grier was a chorister at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, studied music at Eton College, and organ at King's College, Cambridge. He became organist and Tutor in Music at Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford at the age of 25. After four years, he resigned these appointments and travelled to India, where he stayed for four years, studying music, theology and meditation. In 1989, he returned to live in England, where he composes and performs music, as well as running his private psychotherapy practice. Coventry Carol sets the familiar mystery play melody and words in a challenging and beautiful new way, the turbulent second verse expanding medieval compositional techniques beyond expectation to terrifying effect.

Philip Colls is an Alto Lay Clerk in Gloucester Cathedral Choir, a voice coach to the Cathedral Youth Choir, and a respected conductor, musicologist and bon-viveur. He can frequently be persuaded to lay aside his passion for obscure renaissance and baroque performance practice to make fun arrangements like this Rudolph re-write, one of his excellent Five Christmas Encores, published by Goodmusic.

The Singers' Christmas audiences expect serious slush every year as an encore. 1998 was no exception, when Ian Ball was inspired to arrange Martin and Blane's Have yourself a merry little Christmas after hearing the late Nelson Riddle's beautiful string quartet version for Linda Ronstadt. The seemingly trite lyric has some depth for those who care to look, and this arrangement exploits this to the full.

Novello's new No‘l anthology of seasonal carols and anthems looks set to be the Carols for Choirs of the new decade. Editor David Hill brings new life to some old favourites, which include a soaring descant to God rest ye, merry gentlemen which brings Comfort and Joy to a rousing conclusion.

Ian Ball, June 2001

The Saint Cecilia Singers

One of the UK's most respected chamber choirs, the St Cecilia Singers was founded in 1949 by Donald Hunt, and has been directed by successive Assistant Organists of Gloucester Cathedral ever since. The choir is a dedicated group of enthusiastic and gifted amateur and semi-professional singers. Over recent years, the 26-strong choir has built an enviable reputation for its versatility, innovative programming and high performance standards. The Singers have achieved notable successes in the Let the People Sing and Sainsbury's Choir of the Year competitions. Their extensive repertoire covers secular and sacred music from Byzantine chant to challenging contemporary works. They have premiered works by Mark Blatchly, Mark Lee, Keith Amos, Giles Swayne, John Sanders and Ian Ball.

The Singers have broadcast on BBC television and radio, and recorded on the Priory and Lammas labels. Recent tours have included Germany, France, the Netherlands, Tenerife and the United States. The 2000-2001 season included concerts throughout the Cotswolds, their third Three Choirs Festival appearance (a concert performance of Purcell's Dido & Aeneas), and a weekend of concerts and services in Paris, where they sang Naji Hakim's new Messe Solennelle in Notre-Dame Cathedral and La Trinité in the presence of the composer.

Ian Ball

Ian Ball has been Assistant Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral since September 1998. He accompanies and assists in directing the seven sung services every week, and directs the new Cathedral Youth Choir, which he founded in 1999. Ian also leads a busy schedule as a recitalist and conductor. As a solo performer he has travelled widely in Europe and the United States, and given recitals throughout the UK. Ian features on nine commercial recordings, three of them as accompanist and soloist with Gloucester Cathedral Choir, and including a solo disc of French symphonic organ music on Lammas (Sounds Symphonic LAMM126D). He has also broadcast on television and radio. As a conductor Ian achieved notable success with Bristol Phoenix Choir and Bristol Chamber Choir and now the Saint Cecilia Singers, with whom he has premiered commissioned works by Giles Swayne and John Sanders, recorded a CD on Lammas and led on tours to the USA and France.

Born in 1967, Ian Ball was educated at Bolton School, Oxford University and the Royal Northern College of Music. He was organ scholar at St Peter's College, Oxford and Manchester Cathedral respectively, and has been a pupil of David Sanger, Peter Hurford and Gordon Stewart. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and holds the RNCM's Diploma in Advanced Performance, winning prizes in church music and interpretation. He has been a pupil of Naji Hakim for two years, studying repertoire, improvisation and composition in Paris.

From 1991-1994 he was Assistant Organist at Bristol Cathedral, moving to be Organist of Clifton Cathedral from 1994 until his move to Gloucester. He has also worked as a schoolmaster at Chetham's School of Music, Bristol Cathedral School and Redland High School for Girls where for five years he ran a busy choral programme, culminating in a Chamber Choir tour to Thailand in 1996.

From September 2001 until Easter 2002, Ian Ball will be Acting Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral, pending the appointment of a successor to David Briggs, who leaves in March 2002 to pursue his freelance career.

In his spare time Ian enjoys cooking, composing, and spending as much time as possible with his two children. He is fascinated by organ design and construction, and industrial archaeology of all types (mills, trains, buses, trams, canals, boats and planes), especially in his beloved Lancashire. He does not, however, own an anorak, and devours junk TV, rock music and jazz.

Do visit him online at

David Bednall

David Bednall was born in 1979 in Salisbury, and educated in Sherborne, where he studied the organ with Julian Dams and Paul Ellis. In 1996 he became the first Organ Scholar of Sherborne Abbey, and in 1997 was appointed Organ Scholar of The Queen's College, Oxford, where he read music and continued to study the organ with Martin Schellenberg. In 1999 he became an Associate of the Royal College of Organists, winning the Limpus Prize, Frederick Shinn Prize, and Durrant Prize. He gave regular recitals in Oxford, participating in the Bach at Queen's 2000 festival, and also gave two recitals in Sherborne Abbey's evening series - the first being in 1996, and the second earlier this year.

During his time at Queen's, The Chapel Choir maintained a busy schedule, visiting Sherborne Abbey, the Cathedrals of Lincoln, Worcester and Norwich, and Malaga and Granada Cathedrals in Spain. In July 2000 the choir toured Paris under his direction, singing services at Notre Dame and St Eustache, and giving concerts at La Trinité and St Etienne du Mont. The choir also released a live concert CD, which included Duruflé - Requiem, Langlais - Messe Solennelle, and Finzi - Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice.

In September 2000 he was appointed Organ Scholar of Gloucester Cathedral, where he shares the accompanying of the daily sung services, and assists in the direction of the newly founded Cathedral Youth Choir. This year he has given recitals at Bristol Cathedral, St Mary's, Redcliffe, and The Queen's College, Oxford. On Palm Sunday of this year, he performed Messiaen's Les Corps Glorieux as part of Gloucester Cathedral's programme for Holy Week, and will be performing in the complete Messiaen cycle to be held there next season. He continues to study the organ with Ian Ball and improvisation with David Briggs.

Recorded from the Nave in Gloucester Cathedral on 9th -12th January 2001by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter.
Produced by David Bednall
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Photographs by Jean Hooper

© Lammas Records 2001