A bit of a musical Monday today, with three new Christmassy CDs that we’d like to tempt you with…
The first is a carol collection by The Sixteen, their second Traditional Christmas Carol Collection (£8.99 at Amazon; £9.75 at MDT). I was really pleased to see this, as their first collection of carols has been one of our favourites for a number of years now. That one has all the tubthumpers you want, sung brilliantly; this new one treads less familiar ground, is sung just as well and is possibly even more enjoyable.
Most of the carols here were either collected or arranged in the early part of the twentieth century; some are folk carols and others are late medieval texts rediscovered and given new musical life. There’s a lovely intimacy and warmth to the recording, and The Sixteen choir responds sensitively to the simple directness of both the Christmas imagery and the music. The singing is beautiful without being affected (as you sometimes get when choirs turn to folky carols) and it’s sung with an honesty that’s effective and rather moving.
Its many highlights include The Truth from Above (the tune which opens Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols), Past Three A Clock, Down in Yon Forest & an absolutely lovely version of the Wexford Carol. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who’s looking for a cockle-warming carol collection. It’s subtle, spirit-enriching and very, very Christmassy. While we’re here, I’d also like to point you in the direction of a bargain box of some of their earlier recordings for Christmas, a snip at £19.99 (Amazon), or £16.50 (MDT).
Stile Antico‘s new CD of music for Advent and Christmas Puer natus est takes us away from carols to Tudor England and some spellbinding, beautiful music written during our turbulent sixteenth century (£8.99 from Amazon; £10 from MDT). It’s the second rather wonderful record which this choir has released in 2010 (the other is Media Vita, and it’s also fantastic).
From the opening, Thomas Tallis’ twelve minute motet Videte miraculum, the beauty of the music and the singing is simply mesmerising. It’s music which sounds like it has tumbled down from the heavens. The central section consists of the three parts of Tallis’ incomplete mass Puer natus est, possibly written for the Christmas after the marriage of Mary I and Philip II in 1554. Here it’s cleverly woven with William Byrd’s 1605 Gradualia for Advent in a really lovely performance.
To be honest, I should probably stop now before I start overusing the superlatives. It’s a really beautiful collection of music, sung quite brilliantly, and conjures up a totally beguiling sense of peace and stillness.
Finally, just four voices. Anonymous 4 have a back catalogue full of wonderful recordings, several of which are of the most lovely Christmas music, and The Cherry Tree is no different (£13.99 from Amazon; £10 from MDT). From the moment this record begins you know you’re in safe hands. The singing is as warm, pure and faultless as ever; the programme is brilliantly put together.
For this recording, Anonymous 4 combine medieval English and Irish carols and chant with music from nineteenth-century America. Again it’s hard to pick out highlights, but the fifteenth-century ‘song of the nuns of Chester’ Qui creavit celum is simply and beautifully done, a lilting call and response to the infant Jesus; and the much later folk hymn Star In The East (‘brightest and best are the sons of the morning) is direct and engaging. Both strands are then caught up neatly in the title track, The Cherry Tree Carol, originating in fifteenth-century England but performed in a version from early twentieth-century America. It’s yet another Christmas classic from Anonymous 4 and a happy addition to our CD shelves.
They’re all brilliant, but if I could have only one of them, it would be The Cherry Tree. But it’s not long until Christmas… Treat yourself….
A note from Ali…
Today’s Christmas Craft
Over on the Giddystuff blog you can download some brilliant templates to cut out and make into paper chains! There’s going to be a new design, in 3 different colourways, every day in the run up to Christmas. I love this funky retro design of snowflakes and targets – brilliant idea.
I’ve been experimenting today with a plan to make some fabric chains and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to bring you a tutorial later in the week. Have to see if it works first!