Make we Merry

Make we Merry: Christmas Music for Upper Voices
Benenden School Chapel Choir
London Metropolitan Brass, Edward Whiting, David Bednall
Regent REGCD547. 65’18

I would normally avoid the more obvious Christmas CD offerings, but this delightful recording deserves to be an exception. The choir of Benenden Girls’ School are joined by the young London Metropolitan Brass (who unfortunately have the same name as an amateur brass band), percussionist Kizzy Brooks and organist/composer David Bednall for the premiere recording of Bednall’s Make We Merry, a half-hour sequence of eight carols setting for upper voices, brass, percussion and organ. It was commissioned for Benenden Chapel Choir in 2018, and followed earlier collaborations with David Bednall.

Make We Merry makes very effective use of the combination of girls’ voices, the brass instruments and the percussion of Kizzy Brooks, and organ, played by the composer David Bednall. The rest of the CD is made up of two shorter sequences, both accompanied by David Bednall on piano – Bob Chilcott’s The Midnight of your Birth and the impressive  Snow Angel by Canadian composer Sarah Quartel with cellist Rebecca McNaught.

Although all three pieces are by contemporary composers, there is nothing here to frighten the musical horses. The Chilcott sequence is particularly ‘approachable’ in the sense of simple melodies and harmonies. The Bednall and Quartel pieces are far more adventurous in compositional style and are my preferred choices. The former has moments of real drama, the latter is a lovely meditation. It was Sarah Quartel’s first choral composition and was composed in 2002 for the Canadian choir that she was a member of. It finishes with the appropriate words – “Even though the snow may blow, there’s not a wind can stop my music”.

For me, the key aspect of this recording is the extraordinarily high standard of singing from these young women, aged between 13 and 18. Whilst the assorted Tiffanys, Tillys, Poppys, Annabels, Pandoras, Millies, Ophelias, Clemmies, Arabellas (and Freddie Flintoff) all have promising futures as amateur or professional singers. On the evidence of this recording, the future supply of excellent young musicians seems assured, but is it too much to hope that a similar standard will be encouraged in state schools rather than just, as is currently arguably the case in the UK, in private schools like Benenden?

It is encouraging that the brass players of London Metropolitan Brass, percussionist Kizzy Brooks, and cellist Rebecca McNaught also represent the youthful end of the musical spectrum.

David Bednall  Make We Merry (32’12)
Make we merry
The time draws near
The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap
All this night shrill chanticleer
Moonless darkness stands between
Sweet was the song the Virgin sang
Let others look for pearl and gold
Make we joy now

Bob Chilcott  The Midnight of your Birth (16’46)
The Angel did Fly
The Blackbird with One White Feather
Kindness (A raven flew to Bethlehem)
The Midnight of your Birth
The Rain-Tree Carol

Sarah Quartel  Snow Angel (16’18)
Creatures of Light
God will give orders
Sweet child
Snow Angel