'A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME IS STILL A ROSE!'
This recording, in many ways, is quite remarkable using the poetry of Poet Lauriate, Carol Ann Duffy, set to the music of established composer, Sasha Johnson Manning, two English women that almost by accident got together in 2007 and wrote these inspirational and charismatic carols.
About a year ago Radio 3 BBC featured Manning in a special program that involved questions about her compositions, but the focus was on the 'Manchester Carols'; some of these carols were played and she talked about how they came to be written and her main goals concerning their creation. Upon hearing them I was 'hooked'; not because of her ideas, but because the carols are so unique and lovely. This new sequence of carols was premiered in 2007 at the Royal Northern College of Music.
The 'Manchester Carols' retell the Christmas Story for the 21st Century, celebrating a child's birth and all that child was to become; a man who lived by a humble, selfless creed, championing the marginalised in a society which was, as it is now, fraught with political tensions. These carols are for EVERYBODY, the believer and the non-believer, people of other faiths and everyone willing to join in the Christmas celebrations. Having said all of this, some of which I quoted from the 'blurbs' and some from Manning's BBC interview, I have to say that it's not important to me personally that I take in the reason for the recording, as much as the fact that these are simply carols that are very attractive.
Manning's gift for melody is immediately perceived from the first song to the final song on the recording, for they are tuneful and 'catchy'. The musical settings are strophic and the orchestrations varied as to instrumentation and its appropriateness to the mood of the piece. Some examples: the brief bell-like sounds at the beginning of the first selection "The Carol Singer's Carol"; the idea of adding instruments to the texture of the 'Advent Carol' as each element tells the story anew of the Christ Child. The playing of the recorders along with the minor key use lends striking color to a 'New Boy Born', one of my favorites. Each carol presents the listener with a new and different accompaniment idea as well as a refreshing new melody. One of the most profound carols "Call It Nazareth" deploys the use of modern war zones such as Dafur, Bosnia, and Baghad, likening the Holy Family's journey home to Nazareth.
Duffy's poetry challenges the listener to see the Christmas Story through new eyes, and draws parallels with many modern issues in an inventive meanner, not that you must take this challenge, for the recording can exist with only a surface interpretation which may be the best way to enjoy it. Regardless of any of this, her poetry makes for a beautiful cycle of carols - in fact- a RE-INVENTION OF THE CAROL ITSELF!
I couldn't resist including this quote by John Quinn, a reviewer of note: "Miss J.M. writes in the booklet the intentions were to re-tell the Christmas Story for the 21st century. In so doing, however,it appears that in choosing her language and imagery, Miss Duffy has been deliberately careful to appeal to people beyond those of a Christian persuasion". I must agree with Quinn as I listen to the songs. Firstly: Jesus is not mentioned by name until the 13th carol 'Each Child's Name'. Secondly: In the 'Annunciation', the angelic messinger is referred to not as an angel, but as a 'golden youth'. However, this to me is 'much ado about nothing'! What's in a name? Over-analysis, especially in the arts, can easily destroy any appreciation and enjoyment that is meant by its creator. Each of us is the ultimate judge of what we like, so I fervantly hope that these wonderfully written carols is not a cause for 'THE GREAT DEBATE'!!!!
The recording is very well done, the singing is alert, fresh and enthusiastic, as sung by the Manchester Carolers, who are actually heard most week-day mornings on the BBC Radio 4. as the 'Daily Service Singers'. The small Chamber Orchestra offers a bright skilled accompaniment under the capable direction of Richard Tanner, the Director of Music at Blackburn Cathedral.
Unfortunately, the CD booklet does not include the text of the songs, which I find rather strange since Jenning's statement on Radio 3 "I don't want people to just listen; I want them to sing along!" But fortunately, the diction of the Manchester Singers is quite good and almost all words are perceptible.
So my beginnng caption hopefully will lead you to the conclusion, or close to it, that the 'Chirstmas Story' is the 'Christmas Story', and cannot be hidden or changed by any word distinctions. BELIEVE IT OR NOT!!!