• Recording reviews

    Recommended Recording: Christmas with the Tallis Scholars

    This album explores a wide range of Medieval and Renaissance Christmas music, including carols, motets, and masses. There are composers from England, Spain, Germany, France, and the Low Countries. There are familiar pieces (e.g. Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen by Michael Praetorius [1571-1621], the same harmonization we sing as “I know a rose-tree springing,” #17 in our Hymnal) and some remarkable and rarely heard gems (e.g., the seven-part motet Beata es Virgo Maria by Philippe Verdelot [1480? -1532?]). All of the music in this 2-1/2 hour collection has been issued on previous Tallis Scholars albums, but the producers have done the world a great favor by serving them up in one feast.…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Make we joy (Holst & Walton)

    While composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934) is best known for his orchestral suite, The Planets, he also composed quite a bit of choral music, including several hymns. (Three of his compositions or arrangements are in our Hymnal, but the only one we regularly sing is his setting of Christina Rossetti’s “In the bleak mid-winter.”) Holst was conducting village choirs and choral societies by the age of eighteen, and during his studies at the Royal College of Music, his teachers included Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) and Hubert Parry (1848-1918), two giants in the Anglican choral tradition. Although he spent six years as a chorister in the Christ Church Cathedral School in Oxford…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Song of the Nativity (The Sixteen)

    The choral ensemble The Sixteen has recorded a number of albums of Christmas music. They include music from Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque composers, as well as venerable arrangements of well-known carols. In 2006, they issued A Traditional Christmas Carol Collection, followed in 2010 by A Traditional Christmas Carol Collection, Volume II. Under the wise leadership of conductor Harry Christophers, all of these recordings demonstrate discipline and taste shaped by decades of performance of less familiar and more demanding repertoire. In 2016, The Sixteen issued an album called Song of the Nativity which included seven traditional carols as arranged in the 1928 first edition of the Oxford Book of Carols (which for some of…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Praetorius Mass for Christmas morning

    Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) played a profound role in shaping the Lutheran musical tradition as it developed from the late Renaissance into the early Baroque. The son of a devout pastor who had studied with Martin Luther, Praetorius has often been called the “conservator of the chorale,” the Lutheran chorale being the fundamental building block of music in this rich tradition — a musical ecosystem that produced J. S. Bach. In addition to his work as an organist and prolific composer, Praetorius was also a significant music theorist. This 1994 album of Christmas music reconstructs a Lutheran liturgy as it might have been heard at one of the major churches in central…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: A wondrous mystery (Stile Antico)

    The music sung by our parish choir gives preference to music from the Renaissance. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that the Anglican musical tradition originates (and sets a trajectory for its further development) during the second half of the sixteenth century. As it happens, this was a remarkably rich time for the composition of choral music. Aesthetic wisdom acquired for over a hundred years was bearing abundant fruit. For composers and musicians, there weren’t many opportunities for musical artistry outside the Church until the seventeenth century. Until then, a critical mass of creative energy was focused on writing for voices, often without instrumental accompaniment,…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: An American Christmas (Boston Camerata)

    The Boston Camerata, an ensemble specializing in music from the baroque era and earlier, was founded in 1954. It was originally a performing adjunct to the musical instrument collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Between 1969 and 2008, the group was directed by Joel Cohen, under whose leadership the group produced a number of recordings, including many albums of rather unconventional Christmas music. The first one that I obtained in 1975 (on vinyl) was called A Medieval Christmas. That album was followed over the years by six more recordings, each focusing on music from a specific era or region. One of these later recordings (1993), An American Christmas: Carols, Hymns and…

  • Service music

    Sunday after Christmas (December 30, 2018)

    The text to our first hymn  “Of the Father’s love begotten,” dates to the late third or early fourth century. It is part of a longer poem by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-413), a Romano-Spanish magistrate who retired from public service at the age of 57 to dedicate his life to prayer and the composition of devotional verse. While his poetry was not intended for liturgical use, some of the stanzas have been adapted for use as hymns. In his Sacred Latin Poetry (1874), Abp. R. C. Trench noted that Prudentuius “writes as a man intensely in earnest, and we may gather much from his writings concerning the points of conduct which were…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Noëls Celtiques – Celtic Christmas Music from Brittany

    One might easily assume that a disc of “Celtic Christmas music” would feature Irish or Scots or maybe Welsh folk music. But the Breton language is another Celtic tongue, closely related to Cornish and Welsh. The Breton people emigrated from Cornwall and Devon to Brittany beginning in the third century, to escape Anglo-Saxon invaders; Brittany is sometimes called Less, Lesser, or Little Britain. This unique Christmas recording captures some of the heritage of Brittany. A few songs on this album have known Welsh or Cornish ancestry, some are identified simply as “traditional,” and a few are more recent compositions. All of them are sung in Breton by the L’Ensemble Choral du Bout…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Christmas Music from English Parish Churches, 1740-1830

    Irish-born Nahum Tate (1652-1715) spent most of his working life in London, where he was well-known as a poet and playwright. In 1692 he was named poet laureate, and in 1702 he was appointed the official royal historian. Today he is best known for having compiled (with poet/priest Nicholas Brady) A New Version of the Psalms, fitted to the tunes used in churches (1696). It was a collection of metrical paraphrases of the Psalms for use in worship. A Supplement was issued in 1700 which contained some new translations, as well as six hymns (as opposed to paraphrased Psalms) that were officially approved for use in worship. This was a…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: The Promise of Ages (Taverner Consort)

    On Christmas Eve in our parish, we heard a sermon about the mystery of the Incarnation. God loves flesh; how surprising is that?? His love for us is not an abstraction, but a Person born of a woman. The text to the fourteenth-century poem A spotless rose (discussed yesterday) compares Jesus to a rose from the root of Jesse. This situates the Messiah in human history, with all its fleshly particularity and vulnerability. Meanwhile, another medieval poem that has often been set to music — There is no rose — uses the imagery of the rose to describe the Virgin Mary, her body wondrously transcending the usual configuration of space and…