The Naxos Book of Carols — 24 carols for Advent & Christmas
The Naxos Book of Carols is both very old and very new: a collection of carols drawing on centuries of tradition, but in new arrangements specially commissioned by the record label Naxos. Every generation musicians have added something of their own to the yearly festivities of Christmas, and even those age-old tunes and words which have stood the test of time have also been weathered by it: carols are part of a living ritual that is not concerned so much with authenticity as with sincerity. Here the selection ranges from the most well-known of all to some less familiar mediaeval carols as well as entirely original music, including John Pitts's take on O little town of Bethlehem. The arrangements by Antony Pitts are sometimes a very light touch on what is known and loved, and sometimes a complete rethink of a traditional carol. In the case of The Holly and the Ivy, the rarely-heard tune was transcribed from a tape in the BBC's archives and is intertwined with the 'common or garden' melody for the same words.
The 24 carols tell the Christmas story in the same way that an Advent calendar gradually opens its windows day by day through December. The carols are grouped in four sections, each focusing on a different part of the narrative: the Advent hope and expectancy of the coming Messiah, the message of the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary and then of the angels to the shepherds some nine months later, the baby in the familiar but extraordinary manger-birth scene, and finally the visit of the wise men and ultimately "all nations" to adore the King of kings. Each of the four sections is capped by a rousing hymn/carol which follows the customary alternation of unaccompanied verses, descants and colourful last-verse harmony.