Between 1935 and 1981 a village nativity play took
place in the Millroom at Springhead, home of the Gardiner family in
Dorset, and the inspiration of Marabel, matriarch of the Gardiner clan.
She directed the mime and her husband Rolf gave the readings which were
interspersed with music and action. They were John Eliot Gardiner’s
Enshrined in this CD is the pageant itself – bar one
or two items which have been added and were either never performed or
were composed subsequent to it – prominently John Tavener’s The Lamb.
The play unfolds sectionally – Annunciation, Angels, Birth and so on
– with each section clothed in music which is, in the main, slow and
reflective, carols, sixteenth century polyphony, plainchant. Gratifyingly
the geographical range is welcome – English, Dutch, French, Italian,
Hungarian, German and Mexican included. In the play readings from such
as the Gospels or from Milton would intersperse the music but here we
have an unfolding musical tableau of the Christmas story. It’s invidious
to select highlights – so well sung is everything – but it would be
impossible to overlook Cowper’s Gloria, still less the inexhaustible
Palestrina, whose Alma Redemptoris Mater is a four part motet of breathtaking
beauty. Charles Wood’s trippingly sweet arrangement of the carol Past
three a clock, Howell’s blemish free A spotless rose and the bracing
appearance of John Gardner’s oboe interlude are additional pleasures.
Production values are high, the booklet a pleasure
to read, the market – I suspect – small but the undertaking very well