Christmas Now Is Drawing Near: English Folk Carols, Sneak’s Noyse, Roddy Skeaping, director (Musical Heritage Society).

In 1871, the Reverend Henry Ramsden Bramley and Sir John Stainer published Christmas Carols, New and Old, a collection that established Christmas carols as part of the church repertoire (and provided the first four-part harmony for many current favorites). In the preface to their second edition, Bramley and Stainer noted: “Instead of the itinerant ballad-singer or the little bands of wandering children, the practice of singing Carols in Divine Service, or by a full choir at some fixed meeting, is becoming prevalent.” Jeremy Barlow, who researched these tunes, and Roddy Skeaping, consort director, want to recreate the sound of those “itinerant ballad singers” and wandering groups of wassailers.

Many of the tunes are familiar, yet because of the careful research they appear here in older forms with many differences from what we learned in Sunday school. The sound is (intentionally) unpolished. The singers sing well—but as one might sing in the street, not the concert hall—and they double as instrumentalists.

One Victorian carol is included to illustrate the sort of music composed at the time. Stainer’s saccharine “Cold Was the Day When in a Garden Bare” is more than enough to make one long to hear more wandering wassailers.

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