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Albion is a choir from Sheffield, and Salutation, a collection of new arrangements of six Christmas songs, is their debut CD. Without wishing to get to the point too soon, it’s very, very good. I can predict that I’ll be listening to little else right up until December 26th, and probably quite a long time beyond.

Five of the six songs use old English melodies and words. Most are very well known, but even the ones I hadn’t heard before feel somehow familiar. Albion was set up to sing the music of ‘these islands’, and as I listened I found myself really drawn to the sense of collective history that exists in these songs. Choral singing is a huge part of our national identity, especially at this time of year, from church carols to the Sheffield ‘village carols’ sessions that go on in pubs across the city throughout December. To know that these songs have existed for centuries, but continue to be sung, is a very special thing.

But there’s nothing regressive about this CD. One of the huge strengths of Albion is the new arrangements by the group’s musical director, Fraser Wilson. They are handled cleverly and sensitively. He does nothing to damage the timelessness of the music, but still manages to make the songs sound fresh and new. There’s an unfortunate inclination in the classical music scene at the moment towards ever more tired rehashes of an ever decreasing pool of safe music. Mercifully, Albion are one of the few local groups bucking that trend, but they’ve managed to do so in a way that won’t scare anyone away, and I greatly admire them for this.

The performances on the recording are excellent. Albion’s members are all young, either students or young professional singers, and perform without a conductor, so every member has to lead in their own way. There’s an immediacy and vibrancy to the singing that comes with this. Despite the risks inherent in a small choir of everyone trying to be a soloist, the eleven voices on this recording blend beautifully.

Pleasingly, the CD is an all-Sheffield project. The recordings were made in the lovely acoustics of St. Matthew’s Church on Carver Street and Holy Trinity Church in Millhouses, and were produced and mixed by Nick Cox at Sounds Like Screaming. Albion have big plans for performances and collaborations in the future. Make an effort to see them live. I doubt you’ll regret it.