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The Sacred Flame - Cambridge Singers   

I'll be honest, my mental image of the Cambridge Singers is of rather heavy handed singing, suitable for John Rutter's jolly carols, but not exactly competition for the Sixteen. However in this collection of Renaissance and Baroque they have proved they can do subtlety too. The Monteverdi pieces bounce along with just enough lightness. There's a wonderful range of the best music here. Gesualdo's O vos omnes, for example, is full of 'he can't do that!' moments - it's electrifying. Buxtehude's chunky and jubilant Magnificat adds a little light relief among the exquisite likes of Victoria and Josquin Desprez... and it runs through neatly through Schütz to the (relatively) trendy 'new' music of Mr Bach.

All in all a great collection.


Carol books

100 Carols for Choirs - largely, but not entirely paralleling the ultimate choir carol classics Carols for Choirs and Carols for Choirs 2, this is probably the most practical resource to give your choir an effective repertoire. If you haven't already got a set of the individual books, this is the one to go for. It is available in a boxed set of ten, but Amazon has cut the price on this sufficiently that it's cheaper to buy the individual books.

See also carol sheet music

Looking for CDs? Click here for carol CDs with singing on, and click here for organ-only carol accompaniment CDs.

The New Oxford Book of Carols - there simply isn't a rival for this huge book holding 201 carols, many with several different tunes or arrangements. It's not one to give to every member of the choir - it's simply too heavy to hold while you sing - but every choir director should have one, for the useful historical notes, the different settings for different words, and the uniquely comprehensive collection. It's an essential when choosing the components of your next carol service.

Carols for Choirs 1 - the undisputed single most influential carol book in the last 50 years, Carols for Choirs brought the success of David Willcocks' time at King's College Cambridge to a wide audience. Among its 50 carols are most of the regular favourites, plus enough extra to make a choir carol service interesting. While I'd recommend the 100 carols version at the top of the page if you are starting from scratch, many of us have some copies of CfC that will need topping up.

Carols for Choirs 2 - backed up the original CfC by filling in the few gaps of well-known carols and adding a lot of new work, including several of Rutter's classics, like the Shepherd's Pipe Carol, and other modern standards like Ord's Adam Lay Y Bounden. As with the main book, I'd recommend the 100 carols version at the top of the page if you are starting from scratch, many of us have some copies of CfC 2 that will need topping up.

Carols for Choirs 3 - like any other series, if the sequel was a success, keeping up with the third volume is hard work. I think most would agree that while CfC 3 doesn't have as many essentials in at as the previous two volumes, the Willcocks/Rutter editorial combination picked enough good stuff (most of it not in the 100 carols book) to make this a worthy addition.

Carols for Choirs 4 - this is a very different concept to its predecessors - in fact, there's a lot of overlap with CfC1 and 2, but the big difference is that all these carols are arranged for high voices - typically soprano and alto - ideal for some school choirs and other choirs that have trouble coming up with a bottom line. It also makes a great contrast in a carol service to have a bit of the very different sound a high voice choir makes.

Noel: Carols and Anthems for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany - A different and impressive collection for those who want to break away from Carols for Choirs, combining carols and anthems. contents range from the Renaissance to the present: the polyphony of Victoria and Byrd, via Bach, familiar settings of traditional and lesser known carols through the ages, and works by today's composers including Richard Rodney Bennett, Judith Bingham, John Tavener and Judith Weir.

Mixed voice choirs of all levels will find here new arrangements of favourite carols as well as stimulating works for the Christmas season, from the easy to learn to the more challenging and unconventional.

See at MusicRoom.

Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols - if you like the idea of the New Oxford Book of Carols but can't cope with the weight (or the cost!) this might be the answer. Contains 120 of the carols, but less of the alternative music and shorter historical notes. We really do recommend going the whole hog if at all possible, though, as the full NOBoC is just superb.

The Oxford Book of Carols - While the New Oxford Book of Carols is an unbeatable resource, the original OBoC is also still available. It's just about small enough to be used to sing from (478 pages, to the New book's 702), and contains a useful set of historical notes as well as a superb collection of carols. If you want a reference I'd go for the new book, and for most singers the 100 Carols for Choirs might have the practical edge, but this is certainly well worth considering as an alternative.

The Novello Book of Carols - Just to show that OUP isn't the only company that can produce carol books, here's Novello's entry. Quite chunky with 90 carols over 288 pages, and a good mix of accompanied and unaccompanied. Mostly for mixed voices, it includes 16 carols and a further 39 arrangements published here for the first time. From Gabrielli to Judith Weir, medieval melodies to spirituals, the range of styles covers a wide spectrum of tastes. Amongst the less familiar names: A Fanfare for Christmas, All and Some, As Joseph was A-walking, Dawn Carol, Donkey Plod and Mary Ride, El Noi de la Mare, Fum Fum Fum, Huron Carol, Mary Walked through a Wood of Thorn, Rejoice Lordings, The Yorkshire Wassail and more.

Sing Noel - A collection of 51 twentieth century carols giving a real boost to the usual suspects. You’ll find obvious things like Ord’s Adam Lay Ybounden but look out for some absolute gems like Arthur Oldham’s superb Remember O Thou Man, one of the most exquisite modern carols.

Advent for Choirs - Advent has its own musical tradition, but has tended to be swamped by the nearness of Christmas. That's what makes this book particularly welcome. As well as guidance on advent services there are 52 pieces from plainsong antiphons and prose through Palestrina and Stanford to up-to-the-minute composers like Bob Chilcott. Make this year's advent a little special! There are also advent carols in Carols for Choirs 2 (and 3?) but nothing so concentrated.

See at MusicRoom.