> Alleluia Nativitas - Music and Carols for a Medieval Christmas [PW]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb-International

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Alleluia Nativitas
Music and Carols for a Medieval Christmas
1. Novus annus hodie (anon) 2’15"
2. Ut iam cessit (anon) 1’30"
3. Fulget dies celebris (anon) 2’48"
4. Vetus abit littera (anon) 3’54"
5. Procedenti puero (anon) 2’48"
6. Mater Dei salus rei (anon) 3’49"
7. In sompnis mira (anon) 0’50"
8. Huic et placuit (anon) 1’31"
9. Viderunt omnes (Perotin) 10’24"
10. Angelus ad virginem (anon) 3’35"
11. Flos regalis (anon) 4’23"
12. Beata viscera (anon) 1’23"
13. Orientis partibus (anon) 1’58"
14. Salve sancta parens (anon) 1’50"
15. Virgo Maria (anon) 3’47"
16. Edi beo thu (anon) 2’25"
17. Super te Jerusalem (anon) 1’11"
18. O Nobilis nativitas (anon) 1’10"
19. There is no rose (anon) 3’43"
20 St Thomas honour we (anon) 4’11"
21. Nowell, Nowell: The boarë’s head (Smert) 4’47"
The Orlando Consort:
Robert Harre Jones (countertenor); Charles Daniels (tenor); Angus Smith (tenor);
Donald Grieg (baritone)
Recordings made in Aosis Studio, Camden Town, London on 26 & 27 Feb 1990


Experience Classicsonline

Although subtitled "Music and Carols for a medieval Christmas" there is nothing in this disc that makes it unsuitable for use at other times of the year. The repertoire is made of some of the earliest surviving pieces of polyphonic music, centred around the great four-voiced ‘Viderunt Omnes’ of Perotin - the first work of western music for which we know the occasion of composition (Christmas 1198 at Notre Dame de Paris). Of course this sort of repertoire, sung by an all-male quartet of countertenor, 2 tenors and a baritone, is always going to draw comparison with the Hilliard Ensemble, which group has also recorded much of this repertoire. In general the Orlando Consort stands up well - their intonation and blend of voices being uniformly good. Personally this reviewer finds the sound of Robert Harre Jones rather strained in places (especially in ‘O nobilis nativitas’) and thus less pleasing on the ear than David James of the Hilliards, but the tenors blend effectively - most tellingly in some of the passages of "voice exchange" as in ‘Flos regalis’. (Sample 1).

In general, the performances are delivered in a forthright, and somewhat ‘masculine’ style with strong emphasis on forward momentum. Sometimes this leads to rather square rhythms and can tend towards making the programme a touch relentless, but on the other hand, in active pieces of ‘hockett’ (the notes in a melody rapidly alternated between two voices) such as ‘Huic et placuit’, this format is most effective. (Sample 2). The centrepiece of the disc is Perotin’s ‘Viderunt Omnes’ and this massive work really tests any vocal group. At 10’24" this version is over a minute shorter than the Hilliard Ensemble’s recording from 1988 and the rapid tempo comes as something of a surprise at the outset. The lowest part of this work is a sustained drone and baritone Donald Grieg is on his own on this line. Often this part is taken by two singers so that they can alternate breaths, a feature not possible here. The stamina is impressive, but perhaps the balance is somewhat top-heavy as a result. However, the cumulative feel of the long passages of florid writing, gradually rising in pitch with each new section, is dramatic and enjoyable. The change of colour that occurs as each section introduces a new vowel sound adds to the sense of growth and variety. (Sample 3).

This reviewer has often remarked on un-necessarily close microphone placement that seems to be fashionable at various times, and this disc suffers here. The choice to record in a studio seems odd for this repertoire. The consort sounds like they are singing in a small room, the sort of space for which Perotin at least was not intending his music. While this space, and the close microphone placement, add to the clarity, the recording looses much atmosphere and allows several intrusive breaths to be clearly heard. The reverb sounds like it came out of a packet and does nothing at all to add any "bloom" to the sound of the group, as would occur with a naturally resonant acoustic. Given the care that has been put into aspects such as correct medieval pronunciation, the choice not to use a medieval acoustic to record seems hard to support.

Peter Wells


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