Bob Chilcott: Christmas Oratorio

Hailed as ‘a palpable success … and utterly new’ at its premiere performance, Bob Chilcott’s Christmas Oratorio brings the magic, wonder and joy of a centuries-old story to modern-day life.

This first recording reassembles the glittering cast of soloists from the premiere: Nick Pritchard’s Evangelist, intimately accompanied by harp and flute, is joined by mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and bass Neal Davies.

Benjamin Nicholas’s award-winning Choir of Merton College, Oxford enrich the Christmas story with carols that are sure to become instant favourites. The composer is delighted with the recording, describing it as ‘elegant, well paced and poised … The choir is fabulous – confident and sure’.

'"Chilcott’s substantial telling of the New Testament narrative, Christmas Oratorio (Delphian), is expertly performed by the choir of Merton College, Oxford, with top soloists Sarah Connolly, Neal Davies and Nick Pritchard and the Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia, conducted by Benjamin Nicholas ... "


"This is a highly attractive disc on which very appealing music is performed to the highest of standards ... Nick Pritchard gives a subtle and beautifully light-toned performance. Working with the excellent harpist Olivia Jageurs, Pritchard sings the narration with a delightful intimacy which draws the listener right in. At certain points they’re joined by flautist Chloe Vincent. When that happens the pure, silvery sound of the flute adds a lovely extra dimension to the texture ... Dame Sarah Connolly has the role of Mary; luxury casting indeed ... there’s no doubting Connolly’s expressiveness... Anyone who has heard the Merton College choir previously will know that their standards are always exceptionally high; that’s the case in this performance, too. Nichloas shapes the music with great care and his choir delivers a touching performance. Bob Chilcott’s Christmas Oratorio made a very positive impression on me when I first heard it; the opportunity to hear it again and to appreciate it at greater leisure has strengthened that impression. The work is accessible, attractive and very sincere. It’s also very well constructed ... This excellent premiere recording will surely heighten awareness of this expertly crafted and attractive score ... "


read the full review here

"A new Christmas Oratorio. When was the last time we had one of those? ... It’s a mighty undertaking to compose a new addition to that select canon, but today’s Recording of the Week shows Bob Chilcott to be a real contender ... The Oratorio proper begins with the warm sounds of brass quintet (drawn from the Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia) and organ. I admit that when I saw the track-listing I was wary - it’s always wise for composers to think twice before deciding that the world definitely needs theirsettings of texts that have been immortalised in someone else’s - but somehow, when those first rich chords came in to set up the opening hymn Lo! How a Rose, e’er blooming(perfectly blended and mellow, as the brass are throughout), I knew it was going to be alright ... Much of Chilcott’s music conveys a sense of comfort and reassurance, that his music is intended (as Bach said of his Goldberg Variations) to “refresh the spirits” ... the fundamental warmth and wholesomeness of Chilcott’s music is enough to thaw the entire [cover] scene from the inside out"

RECORDING OF THE WEEK - 4 December 2023

"From Schütz, JS Bach and Charpentier onwards, many composers have drawn inspiration from the Christmas narratives contained in the St Luke and St Matthew Gospels. Bob Chilcott’s 2019 retelling adds a diverse selection of 16th- to 20th-century poetry to the biblical texts to create a rich, coherent tapestry ...Benjamin Nicholas draws a well-rounded and confident performance from his Merton choristers. They make the most of the luscious possibilities of the double-chorus Pear Tree Carol that helps to fill up the disc. The most outstanding contribution comes from Nick Pritchard, who takes the tenor’s traditional role as evangelist or narrator. Always accompanied by the harp, his engaging, passionate delivery is crystal-clear and a great bonus. The brass ensemble is sparingly employed (and is all the more effective for it), providing stalwart support for the bass solo passages and the final verses of the hymns. This is certainly an enriching addition to a niche repertory; it would make a perfect programme partner to Finzi’s Christmas scena In terra pax ... Juicy harmonies abound in the delicious Welcome, all wonders in one sight!, which rounds off this enjoyable album, the perfect tonic for the excesses of the approaching festive season"


One of the strengths of this oratorio lies in the narrative from Luke, given to the Evangelist – Nick Pritchard, here as at the premiere – whose mellifluous, quiet tale-telling adds lyrical narrative in between organ-accompanied hymns and new carol settings ... Chilcott uses the Evangelist, and Olivia Jaguers’s accompanying nimble harp, to give us those moments of rapt stillness that mark that certain Christmas magic, and also to change the flow amidst some lovely settings – particularly ‘A Carol to the King’ ... .The sweet harmonies of Chilcott’s ‘Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree’ and ‘The Pear Tree Carol’ bookend the Oratorio, the latter followed by his jazz-inflected ‘Welcome All Wonders’"

"Bob Chilcott’s Christmas Oratorio – a bold title, pitching high – was premiered at the Three Choirs Festival in 2019, and this recording reunites the soloists from that occasion (Nick Pritchard, Sarah Connolly and Neal Davies) with the choir of Merton College, Oxford under Benjamin Nicholas. It is structured a bit like a Bach passion, with an Evangelist (Pritchard, in earnest storyteller mode) getting through the narrative, amid solo meditations and hymns for the choir ... the hymns were for me the big success: “Shepherds in the field abiding” and “Thou whose almighty word” are glorious, singable numbers with soaring descants. I also welcomed the opening track, a setting of “Jesus Christ the apple tree” for upper voices, which will hopefully eclipse the inexplicably popular Elizabeth Poston version, whose appearance can mar any carol concert"

Twelve of the year's best seasonal recordings 2023

"A gorgeous new festive release by a terriffic composer and top tier artists"

Hear an exclusive interview with Bob Chilcott

Release Date: 3 November 2023
Catalogue No: DCD34321
Total playing time: 1:12:10

Recorded on 25-27 June 2023 in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford
Producer: Jeremy Summerly
Engineer: Jack Davis
24-bit digital editing: Jack Davis
24-bit digital mastering: Paul Baxter

Design: Drew Padrutt
Booklet editor: Henry Howard
Cover photo: Adriann Meyer / Unsplash

Session photography & videography: foxbrush.co.uk

Delphian Records Ltd – Edinburgh – UK




Singing In Secret: Clandestine Catholic Music by William Byrd CD Delphian Records


Christmas Oratorio: 4.Magnificat


David Smith talks to Bob Chilcott about the process of writing in the shadow of Bach, as his Oratorio is named Presto Classical's 'Recording of the Week', 1st December 2023


Composer Bob Chilcott image PR

A thoroughly warm-hearted and immediately appealing work, Bob Chilcott's new Christmas Oratorio blends old and new in a variety of ways. It sets some of the best-loved traditional Christmas texts to accessible, singable new music, draws on ancient plainchants to underpin original solo vocal melodies, puts an original spin on the idea of the Evangelist, and makes inventive use of small-scale instrumental forces to create colour and contrast.

Bob shared some of his thoughts on how the work came to be, why it took the form that it did, and how his approach

differs from earlier Christmas Oratorios - chiefly, of course, that written by a certain mid-eighteenth-century director of music at Leipzig's Thomaskirche.


Although there’s an unfathomable amount of Christmas music, there aren’t that many well-known Christmas oratorios as such aside from Bach, Messiahand perhaps Saint-Saëns. What do you think a work of this kind needs to be, in order to be successful?

The most important aim for me with this piece was to make it as connective as I could for both performers and the listeners. I also felt it important to write close in spirit to the models that have gone before.

I had to find a way to shape the story in as natural a way as I could, that would bring to life a story that is so widely loved and cherished. I did this, like Bach, with a tenor Evangelist and tried to make his role song-like and at the same time, direct. I also wrote new hymn tunes to several well-known seasonal hymn texts so that the audience could be part of the performance as well...

David Smith
This interview originally appeared on Presto Music on 1st December 2023


Dame Sarah Connolly performs Chilcott's Magnificat with the Choir of Merton College Oxford ...

Album Booklet

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