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Corp, Ronald: A Christmas Mass


SATB and Organ or Piano

Recently released on EMI Gold by BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year, Chantage, Ronald Corp’s A Christmas Mass combines the time-honoured Latin text with the melodies of over 70 familiar carols and hymns in a musical feast for all lovers of a traditional Christmas.

Some of the tunes provide important thematic material. Others appear more briefly in the joyful accompaniment for organ or piano. All are skilfully woven into a bright and attractive score that will reach out to every member of an audience or congregation in a unique celebration of the season’s musical heritage.

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Readers who know and love Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s wonderful Messe de minuit pour Noël may have regretted the apparent absence of any other choral work which is similarly suitable for both liturgical and concert performance during the Christmas season, and which lends itself to performance by competent, non-virtuosic choirs. Well, such a work has recently appeared: this very attractive Mass setting by Ronald Corp, who is himself well-known as a conductor (of, among others, the Highgate Choral Society and the New London Children’s Choir) and composer, especially of choral works.

In an accompanying note the composer, frustrated at not recognising the French carols used by Charpentier, explains that he had long wished to write a Mass which might use Christmas music which present-day singers would recognise; and, in this instance, he has undoubtedly succeeded. Seventy or so carols and hymns are used, some of which ‘provided important thematic material’ while others ‘make only a brief appearance’. Thus, for instance, ‘Veni, veni, Emmanuel’ – aptly placed within the Mass’s opening movement, the Kyrie eleison – is prevalent in the framing ‘Kyrie’ sections (‘In dulci jubilo’ provides the main material in the central ‘Christe’). Four other familiar carols which make fleeting appearances in this movement, notably in the accompaniment, are the Sussex Carol, ‘Shepherds in the fields abiding’, ‘Here we come a-wassailing’, and Resonet in laudibus. And so it is with succeeding movements in this Latin-texted setting, where some carols pass by so quickly that one scarcely notices them, while others assume a far more persistent, organic role.

The whole work is extremely tuneful and attractive to sing – and not simply because of the familiarity or melodiousness of its thematic material. Competent church choirs and chamber choirs who have a proficient accompanist should find this delightful work well within their grasp.

Roger Wilkes, Laudate

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