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Medieval Carols
English 15th Century Anonymous Ave Maria [2:53]; What tidings bringest thou? [4:08]; Deo gracias Anglia [3:58]; Be merry be merry [2:34]; There is no rose [4:35]; Eya mater Stephane [2:38]; Hail Mary full of grace [3:44]; Now may we singen [4:23]
English Traditional Gaudete Christus est natus [1:43]
Hildegard of Bingen O viridissima virga [4:46]
Anonymous Alma redemptoris mater [6:26]
Spanish Traditional Riu riu chiu [2:23]
Anon, French (c.1090) Planctus Guillelmus [6:48]
Peter Abelard Nowell sing we [3:21]; Planctus David [15:31]
Oxford Camerata (Rebecca Outram; Deborah Mackay; Philip Cave; Jeremy Summerly)/Jeremy Summerly
rec. Chapel of Hertford College Oxford, 15-17 December 1992. DDD
NAXOS 8.550751 [69:51]
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This anthology of medieval - and earlier - music for voices was recorded fourteen years ago and first issued in 1993. It has now been given fresh bib and tucker by being slotted into a cardboard sleeve. This carries spanking new livery clearly designed to appeal directly to the 2006 Christmas music market.

The songs date back between 600 and 950 Christmases and are predominantly spiritual rather than earthy. There are however a sprinkling of welcome vigorous tracks. Deo gracias is virile and truculent and the words The King went forth to Normandy are sung with gritty determination. Be merry be merry is oddly subdued but restraint is flung aside for Riu riu with its Iberian roughness and Carmina Burana staccato. Gaudete christus is given with burly ebullience. The heart’s centre for the collection is however a slow to moderato florid efflorescence including the lulling trance to be heard in O viridissima. In Alma redemptoris I was struck by the secure blend of the voices – one of their strengths. Nowell sing we adopts a slow steady sing-song. There are two Planctus pieces, one for the death of William of Normandy and the other to words by Peter Abelard lamenting the deaths of Saul and David. I am not quite sure what these have to do with Christmas but no matter. The Planctus David is a tour de force for Philip Cave and at 15:30 it is the longest piece on the disc.

The booklet does not reproduce the words and is very much an economy budget class job.

Oxford Camerata here comprises four voices and with the exception of Gaudete christus – which includes a tambourine or similar – are unaccompanied. They are recorded in a typically resonant acoustic adroitly handled by the technical team who avoid complex echoes and cloudiness. Microphones are placed in close proximity to the voices so that one could swear you can see the breathy cold condensation rising from each singer’s mouth.

Will appeal to those who prefer a more spiritual and meditative emphasis for an anthology of medieval music.

Rob Barnett


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