The Darkest Midnight CD review

THE DARKEST MIDNIGHT – SONGS OF WINTER AND CHRISTMAS: Papagena (Somm Celeste SOMMCD 0189) ★★★★

A wonderfully cheering and joyful disc from the three sopranos and two altos who make up Papagena. Spanning eight centuries and with music from Canada to the Ukraine, the 64-minute programme provides a refreshing break from over-familiar festive fare. It opens with the haunting traditional Irish song Don oíche úd i mBeithil (I Sing of a Night in Bethlehem) in an arrangement by Papagena's co-director Suzzie Vango. The group's impressive clarity of diction, purity of sound and accurate pitching are immediately apparent but there's vibrancy and joie de vivre too in lively items like the Ukrainian Shchedryk (Hark How the Bells) and the medieval English carol Nowell, its catchy rhythm underpinned by a drum. Many pieces have been specially arranged for the album including one of Joni Mitchell's The River and an aria from Ravel's opera L'enfant et les sortilèges; even old favourite Gaudete sounds ear-catchingly different. Texts are included.

Norman Stinchcombe

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