Anna Lapwood’s new Christmas release: A Pembroke Christmas


Another piece of music which has come as a complete surprise on my gentle trot through new-ish Christmas music this year is that written by baritone Roderick Williams. It appears on Anna Lapwood and Pembroke College Choir’s Christmas release recorded earlier this year.

O Adonai is ten years old, written originally for Ex Cathedra back in 2011/2012, although OUP appears to have marked the copyright as 2004 – so Williams’s creation could be eight years older.

Williams setting of the second O Antiphon is a remarkable creation featuring a mix of solo and groups creating an eerily theatrical feel with the same melodic fragment echoing from the very depths of a cathedral space. At its heart is a central chorus that sings ‘O Lord and Ruler the house of Israel …’ in delectable smooth harmony. Flying around at the top those top voices repeating the opening fragment like birds on the wind.

In the latest recording released on Signum by Anna Lapwood and the Chapel Choir of Pembroke College, Cambridge, the soft smooth sounds of the central chorus combined with the crystal clear lines of the upper voices makes for a reflective experience. I’ve listened to it repeatedly over the past few days.

Another surprise is hearing Emma Johnson’s I Sing of a Maiden featuring the clarinettist in the recording. I adore the apparent simplicity in the initial musical idea. There is a supportive lilt to the entire carol that evokes care and devotion in a tactile way.

The entire album is one of those rare treats (though consistent with all of Lapwood’s recordings) where everything fits the bill musically, but special mention needs to go to The Pembroke College Girls’ Choir themselves for writing an arrangement of Gaudete! which finally lays to rest the to-date persistent memories of Steeleye Span and (by extension) Alan Partridge singing Gaudete. The setting breathes new life into the Christmas cliche.

The girl choristers also composed a setting of Silent Night that started the Christmas album project off in the first place. A ravishing arrangement.