• Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Incarnation (The Gabrieli Consort)

    During the twelve days of Christmas, I’ve been recommending recordings of Christmas music. This is the twelfth and last “review,” and I realize that many readers have probably stopped listening to Christmas music by now. But you can still make notes for next year’s listening (and gift-buying). Several days ago, I discussed an album of music by Michael Praetorius and others, a recording that reconstructed what a Christmas-day service at a major church in central Germany around 1620 might have sounded like. Today I’ve got another recording by the Gabrieli Consort, conducted by Paul McCreesh. It’s called Incarnation, and the title of the album is a clue that the program…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Cristóbal de Morales Christmas motets

    In the past four years, our choir has been privileged to sing five different pieces by a sadly neglected composer from the Spanish Renaissance, Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553). Born in Seville, Morales was hailed during his lifetime as “la luz de España en la music” (“the light of Spain in music”). He was clearly the most famous Spanish composer before Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611) and probably one of the most widely performed composers throughout Christendom in the middle of the sixteenth century. Between 1535-1545, he sang in the choir of the Sistine Chapel. His time in Rome may have some bearing on the fact that his compositional style seems…

  • 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,…

  • Essays

    The wondrous mystery in song

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of Touchstone magazine.] When I was in high school, a remarkable music teacher introduced me to some recordings of Christmas music by a group called the Elizabethan Singers, led by Louis Halsey. The records featured mid-twentieth-century arrangements of traditional carols, some of which were familiar (“Away in a Manger,” to the tune CRADLE SONG, in a delicate setting by Hugo Cole, or “Good King Wenceslas,” arranged by Malcolm Williamson, or “The Holly and the Ivy,” set by Benjamin Britten). But many of the arrangements were of texts and tunes I had never heard, but which have since become…

  • 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…

  • 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…