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biographical data

The Annunciation, the angel Gabriel’s revelation to Mary that she will bear the Son of God, comes from Luke’s Gospel. Gabriel’s visit, as well as a brief portion of Mary’s Magnificat, are paraphrased in the Basque carol, “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came.” Originating in northwestern Spain, the tune and text—part of a rich but diffuse Basque tradition—were “collected” by French ethnographer Charles Bordes; the text was later translated and paraphrased by Sabine Baring Gould, an English priest and scholar.

Jonathan Rathbone, a GRAMMY-nominated composer, arranger, and conductor, trained at the historic Coventry Cathedral, Christ’s College at Cambridge, and the Royal Academy of Music. From 1984 to 1996, he sang with and music-directed the Swingle Singers, the renowned vocal chamber ensemble. His arrangement of “Gabriel’s Message (The Angel Gabriel)” is a dramatic reading of the Basque carol, combining musical intellectualism with the visceral excitement of the angel’s news. Rathbone masterfully uses key changes, shifts of meter, and cascading, chromatic voice lines to serve the message of the text.

Irishman Michael McGlynn is hailed as one of the foremost choral composers active today. His music, which integrates historical compositional techniques, the cultural influences of the British Isles, and jazz harmonies, has a vehicle in Anúna, McGlynn’s wildly popular Irish choral ensemble. Founded in 1987, the group has recorded over 16 albums, and has included numerous current and past Phoenix Chorale singers in its corps of—as McGlynn describes them—“the finest choral singers on the planet.” McGlynn’s arrangement of “Silent Night” haloes Franz Gruber’s melody with atmospheric harmonies in the treble voices. In a nod to the folk instrumental traditions of Ireland and Scotland, the bass voices sing sustained pedal tones, giving the piece a timeless quality as the upper voices weave an ethereal tapestry of sound.

Douglas E. Wagner’s “Welcome Yule!” is an exhilarating invitation to share in the joy and fellowship of the Christmas season. Wagner’s multifaceted output includes works for concert band, symphony orchestra, and handbells, in addition to his choral works. His experience in instrumental music is manifest in this fanfare-like piece, in which rhythmic vitality and bright harmonies enliven the tidings of Jesus’ birth. Wagner draws the text of “Welcome Yule!” from an early fifteenth-century carol written by English poet John the Blind Audelay, clothing it in a quasi-medieval musical language that includes a traditional verse-refrain form, modal scales, and characteristically English harmonies in which the voices rise and fall in similar motion.