"MAKE WE JOY." Christmas music by Holst and Walton. Simon Lawford, organ; Christ Church Cathedral Choir conducted by Stephen Darlington. Nimbus Records NI 5098 (compact disc). This disc will make much joy for aficionados of British choirs. Some of these 15 selections will be familiar, but many of them should be new to U.S. listeners. Darlington elicits smooth, balanced sound from his 29 singers, all male, of course. Sometimes it is much too warm a product, as in Holst's remarkably cozy setting of "In the Bleak Mid-Winter," though the choir colors the wide emotional range of "This Have I Done" effectively. The singing is characteristically light and pure, and nicely sustained by the Nimbus engineering and the Merton College Chapel acoustic.
" . . . TO CATCH A CHRISTMAS STAR." William Beck, organ; Cal State Long Beach Handbell Choir; Roger Wagner Chorale, conducted by Roger Wagner. Delos D/CD 3072 (compact disc). This recording of both old favorites and new works may be enough by itself to stimulate a new golden age of choral singing. Wagner's 20 singers deliver handsome, immaculately groomed sound in a variety of styles--23 numbers on the disc--and point texts with sure purpose. The massive, push-button climaxes, impressive though they be, do not amaze as much as the softly spun, effortlessly gentle efforts. Among those are John Rutter's "Nativity Carol," Salli Terri's setting of the "Coventry Carol" and Paul Manz's "E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come." Delos renders the sound superbly, though identification of the uncredited instrumentalists would have been nice.