Downton Abbey is an international phenomenon, beloved in America as it is in the U.K. But even those who are not fans of the show – which airs on PBS in America – are likely to love this carefully curated collection of 45 carols, classical pieces, and hymns that might have graced holiday celebrations at the Manor.
The show’s presence is further emphasized by the special seasonal arrangement of the Downton Abbey theme by composer John Lunn. “Part I” opens the first CD and “Part II” opens the second. It is performed by The Budapest City Orchestra and The Budapest Choral Voices and is the only original piece in the collection.
The rest of the songs mix popular carols and classical pieces. Cast member Julian Ovenden, who plays Charles Blake, sings on five songs, and he has a lovely, strong voice. He is joined on “The First Noel” by Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Lady Cora. McGovern also sings on “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” and her voice is charming, exactly the sort of voice you would expect to hear at a sophisticated, yet non-professional party performance in one of England’s grand houses in the early years of the 20th century.
Ovenden also does a beautiful version of “O Holy Night” as well as “The Sussex Carol” and “Silent Night” and is joined by 13-year-old soprano Katie Marshall for one of the more light-hearted songs of the collection, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Her voice is lovely but not well-suited to the playfulness of the song.
Several songs are also performed by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the opera singer who appeared in Season 4 of the show. These are “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “The Holly and the Ivy,” and “I Saw Three Ships.” The Choir of Kings College Cambridge and various other performers are featured as well and provide a lush and varied musical soundtrack for the season.
This collection is the perfect background for your own sophisticated Christmas party or intimate tea. It will also make peaceful listening while gift wrapping or decorating or just relaxing by the light of the tree. It will transport you back to a time which was far less hurried and hectic than our modern holiday (except for the staff downstairs, of course). Buy it for yourself and any Downton Abbey fan or fan of choral music on your list.
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