The “O Antiphons” that frame this collection of Christmas music properly belong to the week before Christmas. They are the culmination of Advent in preparation for the celebrations of Christmas Eve and Day. Advent itself begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas of course. Children start to open the pictures on their Advent calendars. Advent candles are lit to measure off the days left. Christmas fairs are set up across Germany. In Provence the crèche is peopled with santons. In Denmark the traditional Christmas lunch (an allafternoon affair at the very least) puts politics and business on hold. Across America the Christmas shops that have been open most of the year suddenly begin to make sense. And everywhere the carol singers begin to gather. Putting aside the commercial mayhem that surrounds a modern Christmas, all of these activities contrive to remind us that Christmas begins, musically as well as theologically, about a month before the day itself. Properly speaking it continues for some time afterwards as well, although carol singing, indoors or outside, tends to stop rather abruptly once the presents have been unwrapped.
I don’t know if my musical colleagues have similar experiences – I expect they do – but my musical encounter with Christmas tends to run well into the New Year, either with more seasonal concerts or a carols recording on the back of December’s music-making. And it picks up again quite early in the summer when I start to plan the final details of my carol concerts for the following winter. Actually there is nothing I enjoy more on a hot June afternoon than to cool off indoors by playing through some favourite carols and perhaps starting to work on a new arrangement of one tune or another. This may all seem a bit weird to more normal people, for whom the onset of Christmas is probably signaled by the appearance of decorations in shops, but it was ever thus in my experience.
This is the fourth in a series of carol recordings for harmonia mundi that have featured a number of my own carol arrangements. Most of these arrangements have now been published by Theatre of Voices Edition: http://www. tov-edition.com. The first two CDs were Carols from the Old and New Worlds volumes 1 and 2. Next came The Christmas Story (2011), which follows a narrative pattern built loosely on the plan of Nine Lessons and Carols, and including early music as well as traditional. This newest addition maintains the transatlantic approach of the first two CDs, but because the singers here are Chamber Choir Ireland, I have flavoredthe mixture with a hint of Irish music for good measure.