Beneath the Incense Tree, Music for Advent, Christmas & Epiphany

The Choir of Trinity College, Melbourne

Christopher Watson, director

Gillian McNaughton, organ
Jack Lindsay, organ

“Buy this. Download this. Stream this. Get this.”
The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians

DOWNLOAD & STREAM | Buy the CD | The Choir of Trinity College, Melbourne | Christopher Watson | Artwork,  Back cover |

1. A Babe is Born
William Mathias (19341992)

2. Gabriel’s Message
arr. Lachlan McDonald (b. 1995)

3. In Advent Heat
Peter Campbell (b. 1964)

4. Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
Anthony Piccolo (b. 1946)

5. A Lady that was so Fair and Bright
Owen Elsley (b. 1993)

6. Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
Johannes Brahms (18331897)

7. Behold a Simple Tender Babe
June Nixon (b. 1942)

8. Away in a Manger
arr. Michael Leighton Jones (b. 1947)

9. Nativitie
Daniel Riley (b. 1992)

10. Softly
Will Todd (b. 1970)

11. Silent Night
arr. Daniel Brinsmead (b. 1988)

12. In dulci jubilo, BWV 729
Johann Sebastian Bach (16851750)

13. Ding Dong Merrily on High
arr. Malcolm Williamson (19312003)

14. Balulalow
Francis Pott (b. 1957)

15. The Magi’s Gifts
Richard Allain (b. 1965)

16. Coventry Carol
arr. Daniel Riley

17. Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern
Johann Pachelbel (16531706)

18. Angel Song
Dan Locklair (b. 1949)


“Buy this. Download this. Stream this. Get this. …I can’t remember being this zealous about recommending a recording to AAM colleagues. And who would have guessed it would be Christmas music?

The author of this recording’s liner notes is composer Peter Campbell, and he clearly read the bubble over most church musicians’ heads, opening his musings with, “The thought of yet another album of Christmas carols must fill even an avid Noelophile with as much dread as it does many choristers.” But this CD is different, as it assembles fifteen contemporary choral works along with three familiar organ pieces associated with the fused seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. In these choral settings, there are new ideas adeptly layered onto familiar carols, with innovative, fresh takes on ancient and traditional texts. There is this marvelous choir of students and recent graduates of the University of Melbourne, prepared by Christopher Watson, who had only been in his position as Director of Music at Trinity College, Melbourne, for about a year-and-a-half when the CD was released. His is a familiar name for good reason: he is a revered tenor soloist and church musician, a consort singer with the Tallis Scholars, and he was the founding director of the acclaimed chamber choir, Sospiri.”
MARJORIE JOHNSTON, The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians, Volume 29, Number 1, January 2020

“The Choir of Trinity College, Melbourne, consists—according to the liner notes—of “students and recent graduates from the University of Melbourne and nearby tertiary institutions.” Comprising just under 30 members, it has concertized in the U.K., Europe, Asia, and the United States as well as in its native Australia. The choir is in the British tradition, and the music on this disc largely explores the grand choral tradition so many Americans associate with St. Thomas Fithh Avenue, King’s College, Cambridge, and the like. While the sound of the classic boy choir tradition is clearly influential, the choir is mixed. The result, to my ears, is very successful.

This recording offers 18 tracks of such substantial choral music, some unaccompanied and some with organ accompaniment, all devoted to the seasons of Advent through Epiphany. The choir is really beautiful: its blend, balance, intonation, and sense of ensemble are all superb. Thee organists are Gillian McNaughton, who is the N. Bruce Munro Senior Organ Scholar, and Jack Lindsay, the Junior Organ Scholar. Both do a fine job and demonstrate a deep affinity with the high style of the music.

McNaughton is heard on the difficult accompanied choral works and several organ solos. While these solos are short and familiar pieces—the Brahms Es ist ein Ros, the Bach In dulci jubilo, BWV 729, and the Pachelbel Wie schön leuchtet—she handles the organ admirably. Her full powers are on display on the first and last tracks, “A Babe Is Born” by William Mathias and “Angel Song” by Dan Locklair. Here, her playing is electric and absolutely of a piece with the choir.

Jack Lindsay handles Anthony Piccolo’s setting of “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” and Daniel Riley’s “Coventry Carol” with subtlety and skill. Neither of these pieces is easy: the Riley setting, in particular, requires hair-splitting accuracy in tuning the many cross relationships in the choir and saves the organ for later in the piece, giving it the all-important last word. Kudos to both organ scholars.

Space does not permit a discussion of each and every piece—though that would be time well spent. My personal favorites include the aforementioned Mathias and Locklair pieces, both of which are grand and glorious, as well as very challenging. The styles of these two works differ; Mathias begins with quiet intensity in a minor mode, while Locklair begins in a thrilling rush of upward scales and colorful harmonies. Both offer richly contrasting sections for choir and organ. Both are great vehicles for an advanced choir and organist, real showpieces for a Lessons and Carols service.

Also, I must mention “Behold a Simple Tender Babe” by June Nixon. Nixon is an institution; not only in Australia, where she is now emerita at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, but also now in the States. Those of us who happily took part in OrganFest 2020 experienced her commissioned work Intrada: St. Anne for organ and two trumpets. The choral setting on this CD is lyrical, sweet, simple, and inevitable, winning the heart in just under two minutes. Nixon is also a DMus (Cantuar), honoring her long tenure in Melbourne; she is the first woman to hold this doctorate, which is granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The recording is not only for those who never miss Lessons and Carols from Cambridge, but for those who appreciate excellent choral music in the English tradition, with concomitant organ playing. It joins my ever-growing Christmas playlist, and I think it would find a happy niche in yours too.”
JONATHAN B. HALL, The American Organist, October 2020