WELCOME YULE!Choral Favorites for Christmas
Anton Bruckner, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Various Composers
James H. Cook, organ solo
Kenneth Watson, harpsichord
Lester Seigel, celesta
“Sursum Corda is an accomplished 12-voice mini-choir… they cultivate a predominantly full voiced, vibrato-heavy sound... their repertoire is quite varied, and they certainly perform everything well. They deliver a robust account of a short Christmas mass by Charpentier, complete with recorders and basso continuo, showing off some fine individual voices while they’re at it... They’re quite well recorded.”
Koob, American Record Guide [November/December 2014]
“A most interesting release... The individual vocal lines are cleanly delineated throughout... [an] intriguing disc”
International Record Review [December 2014]
“Christmas albums abound, so this lovely but unassuming disc by the Alabama choral group, Sursum Corda, might be overlooked. Yet, this should not be the case, as it is well worth a listen! The 20-person choir under the direction of Lester Seigel of the Canterbury United Methodist Church in Mountain Brook, Alabama, performs a selection of sacred and secular holiday music from a variety of historical periods and musical styles in unique and intriguing arrangements. The ensemble offers an appealing blend of voices, clarity of diction, tasteful phrasing, all of which comes together to produce an elegant, often ethereal, transparent sound. The soloists all contribute effectively to the recording— most notable Daniel Seigel’s dark bass and Rebecca Young’s pristine soprano— but it is the overall cohesiveness of the group which impresses most... The very present, vibrant sound on the recording captures the ambiance of a live performance throughout, though only the Charpentier Mass was actually recorded in performance... The voice sections are admirably balanced and blended, and harmonize well with the instrumental accompaniment.… Welcome Yule! makes for pleasurable listening and conjuring up the holiday spirit.”
Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, Fanfare [November/December 2014]
“[Lester Seigel] has chosen a widely varied program for his group’s Christmas album. It opens with a joyous rendition of Williametta Spencer’s dramatic Welcome Yule. Seigel follows it with Anton Bruckner’s glorious but little known Virga Jesse floruit, in which the singing of the women is particularly well focused and resonant... [Messe de Minuit pour Noël] fits Sursum Corda’s abilities well and its members sing in exquisite harmony. There is a version on EMI from the Kings College Choir of Cambridge, but it doesn’t have the flair of the rendition from Alabama... The sound on this disc is particularly good during the studio selections, but the live Charpentier Mass gives it an additional dimension. This would be an excellent choice for a recording to accompany the holiday lights of a private home.”
Maria Nockin , Fanfare [November/December 2014]
“I found myself reveling in the sound of the choir that appears on these two CDs... the blend is exemplary, the tuning and diction sharp, and the sound gorgeous. [Welcome Yule!] is an attractive collection of Christmas-inspired music, drawing from the familiar and the obscure, the sacred and the secular.“
Ronald E. Grames, Fanfare [November/December 2014]
“[an] engaging collection of classical works, carols, and good old American favorites celebrating Christmas… The members of Sursum Corda are distinguished for flawless intonation, perfect blend, and the lovely sound they achieve in all voices, particularly in the upper ranges. The warmth and clarity of the group of 20 voices serves the carols and popular selections well. The voices of Sursum Corda are as lovely as they are seamlessly perfect. Highly recommended.”
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [December 2013]
PROGRAM NOTESVariety is a hallmark of Sursum Corda’s programming, and this Christmas disc is no exception. The many historical periods, styles and originality in the treatment of both liturgically based texts and the beloved carols of the season makes choosing music for a holiday disc both a challenge and a joy.
The liturgical settings include settings of the Messe de Minuit pour Noël (Christmas Midnight Mass), each set to traditional French carol melodies, by the 17th-century composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier. His career was an exemplary one: study in Italy (considered essential for most Baroque-era composers; of the greats, only Johann Sebastian Bach seems to have missed that opportunity), posts in great courts in France, collaborations with the playwright Molière, and positions at prestigious churches, including his last appointment as music-master at Saint-Chapelle in Paris. The mass dates from the 1690s, and quotes ten different French carols (Noëls). The composer
wrote that an organ performance of the noël follow each choral setting, an example we have followed after the Kyrie.
Two other liturgical texts are O Magnum Mysterium and Virga Jesse Floruit. O Magnum Mysterium, traditionally a Collect for the Mass of Christmas Day, speaks of the holy mystery that animals witnessed the infant Savior in their lowly manger. Malcolm Archer’s setting utilizes tautly chromatic polyphony, echo effects, parallel chords, and other 20th-century techniques to create a mystical atmosphere reflective of the text, which continues in its second part, a prayer to the Virgin Mary. Virga Jesse Floruit is a beautiful metaphor of Jesus’ birth, and is used liturgically for the Feast of the Annunciation in early spring: “the rod of Jesse has blossomed: a Virgin has brought forth [one who is] God and human: God has restored peace, reconciling in Himself the lowest with the highest. Alleluia.” Bruckner’s setting of this text is probably the most famous one in the choral literature. Musically, the dramatic and sudden shifts of dynamics and stark chordal sonorities reflect the character of his many great symphonies. But this motet, like all the choral music of Bruckner, also portrays the devout attitude of the humbly religious Austrian composer.
Turning to the many traditional carol texts, Welcome Yule, by the gifted American composer Williametta Spencer, effectively utilizes a modern, neo-Classic approach to express the jollity of the “welcome”. From the tradition of French carols, Born Today is the Child Divine uses an English-language version in a deftly-composed arrangement by Edward Chapman. Another French carol, Angels We Have Heard On High, receives an unusual treatment, utilizing a drone effect and haunting minor-key motif by Matthew Culloton, conductor of The Singers – Minnesota Choral Artists and former singer and Music Advisor with the Dale Warland Singers. The other carol settings here are drawn from a variety of American and European sources, including the rarely-heard Somerset Wassail and The Golden Vase Carol.
The haunting poetry of G.K. Chesterton in The Christ Child receives a powerful musical setting by the contemporary Scottish composer Gabriel Jackson. Closing out the collection, we include the ever-popular Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas in tribute to an Alabama native son, Hugh Martin, who composed it for the film Meet Me In St. Louis. Also in a more popular vein is the sweet Noël, Ç’est L’amour, which recalls the memories of family and home that are so much a part of the season. [Lester Seigel, November 2013]
Sursum Corda was founded as an ensemble of twelve singers in late 2006. Its mission began as an ensemble to perform great choral music of the Christian and Jewish traditions, and over the years, has broadened that repertoire to include a variety of secular works, including commissions for original works. Based at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Mountain Brook, Alabama, the group has performed yearly in Birmingham, around the South, as well as at the 2011 national conference
of the American Choral Directors Association in Chicago. In 2012, Sursum Corda members performed individual roles and as the chorus for a critically-acclaimed concert performance of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra under Justin Brown. The ensemble’s debut compact disc, Illumine Our Hearts [MSR Classics], primarily featured Jewish-themed music and was warmly received in Gramophone and numerous other publications.
Lester Seigel is Director of Sursum Corda, and since 1989 has been Organist, and currently Choirmaster and Organist at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Mt. Brook, Alabama. For ten years he served as Choir Director and Organist at Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, Alabama. Seigel maintains an active career as a conductor of opera, as a pianist in chamber music performances and as a recital accompanist, in which capacity he made his Carnegie Hall debut with his son, baritone Daniel Seigel, in 2009. Seigel is currently the Joseph Hugh Thomas Professor of Music at Birmingham-Southern College, where he has led the school’s notable Concert Choir since 1993.
Virga Jesse Floruit
O Magnum Mysterium
[arr. Edward T. Chapman]
Born Today Is The Child Divine
The Christ Child
MESSE DE MINUIT POUR NOËL
Sanctus and Benedictus
[French carol; arr. Matthew Culloton]
Angels We Have Heard On High
[arr. Jon Washburn]
The Golden Vase Carol
[arr. Lester Seigel]
Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head
FRANZ GRUBER [arr. Lumsden]
[English carol; arr. Miles Ramsay]
Deck the Hall
HUGH MARTIN [arr. Molly IJames]
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
JACQUES PIERPONT [arr. Ralph Allwood]
Noël, C’est L’Amour
[arr. Arthur Warrell]
A Merry Christmas