Hodie, Fantasia on Christmas Carol
with Janice Watson, soprano; Peter Hoare, tenor; Stephen Gadd, baritone
Guildford Choral Society, St Catherine’s School Middle Chamber Choir
Andrew Lamb, director
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Hilary Davon Wetton, conductor
As usual, two works from two different stages of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s career are collected in this Christmas recording: the Fantasia of Christmas Carols and Hodie. The former, composed in 1912, proves Vaughan William’s lifelong interest for early folk music, an interest that inspired him several other works as English Hymnal, Twelve Traditional Christmas Carols from Herefordshire and On Christmas Night before culminating with Hodie, the most popular among his Christmas works and completed just few months before his death.
The present recording presents a very good performance of the Fantasia and of Hodie. Hilary Davon Wetton conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (in Hodie only, of course) obtaining a sound of wide beauty that really allows the listener to enjoy the joyful atmosphere of this inspiring work. The impression is that the conductor’s intention is to characterize this wonderful work with thoughtfulness, where joy is revealed by details, as in the solicitous singing of the chorus in The blessed son of God or angelical trebles in Now when Jesus was born.
The Guildford Choral Society and the St Catherine’s School Middle Chamber Choir are fine too and they are particularly suggestive in the Fantasia, where their singing seems to echo a gentle wind and gives an impression of familiarity and cosiness, but the same finesse characterizes Hodie too and their softness and smoothness is a true pleasure for the ears.
Among the soloists, the performance of baritone Stephen Gadd is particularly remarkable. He introduces the listener to the Christmas magic of Vaughan William’s works with his solemn and at the same time affable singing in Fantasia, qualities that characterize him also in The shepherds sing from Hodie. Soprano Janice Watson’s silvery and mild voice can be appreciated in It was the winter wild, where she sings with intensity and emotion, while tenor Peter Hoare is a little too emphatic and not always precise in Bright portals of the sky.