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Thys Yool: A Medieval Christmas
Martin Best Ensemble/Martin Best
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouthshire, Wales, 4-5 May 1988. DDD. Ambisonic (UHJ encoded)
Booklet includes Modern English translations but not original Middle English, French and Latin texts.
NIMBUS NI5137 [64:07]

Experience Classicsonline

Thys Yool

Personent Hodie [2.02]; Judas and Wenceslas [1.31]; HyerMatin [5.07]; Miri it is while sumer ilast [1.52]; Man mei longelives weene [5.26]; ThysYool [1.03]; Tapster, drynker [1.15]; Ja pour hyver [4.27]; Gabriel from Heven-King [2.26]; Song of the Nuns of Chester [3.11]; Hail Mary full of grace [4.11]; As I lay on Yoolis Night [3.39]; Edi be thu [2.09]; Perperit Virgo [2.49]; O Virgo Splendens [2.20]; Loor de Santa Maria [1.56]; Polorum Regina [2.57]; Mariam Matron [2.02]; I pray you all [2.09]; Ther is no rose [4.42]; CaligoTerraeScinditur [2.01]; Princeps Pacis [3.13]; Mors vitae Propitia [1.17]
Martin Best (voice, lute, psaltery), Lucie Skeaping (voice, rebecs, fidele), David Corkhill (dulcimer, drums, bells), Jeremy Barlow (pipes, recorders, transverse flute), Donna Deam (soprano), Kristine Szulil (alto), Angus Smith (tenor).
rec. Wyastone Leys, 4-5 May 1988. DDD
NIMBUS NI5137 [64:08];

This Nimbus disc of 1988 features mediaeval music from Europe, and focuses on six elements of the nativity. It opens with Personent Hodie under the heading "Sing today of Joy". Seven songs depict "Winter and Wassail"; six represent "A Child is Born"; four, all from Spain, describe "Mary Mother, Queen of Heaven" and another four "Mary’s Son, Goodwill on Earth". The disc ends with the twelfth century French Mors Vitae Propitia to represent "Rebirth". This makes for a good sense of story-line and progression, and yet the programming also allows for great variety within these sections, to keep interest.

The artists, under the collective name of the Matthew Best Ensemble, include top musicians in their fields, such as Martin Best himself (voice, lute and psaltery) and Lucie Skeaping (voice, rebecs and fidele).

The disc commences with a sense of great joy in Personent Hodie – a feeling that is maintained by the ensuing Judas and Wenceslas - an instrumental piece that joins the Polish tune Jesuza Judasz Przendal with the more familiar Good King Wenceslas melody. The high spirits – and excellent music-making - continue with Hyer Matin. Miri it is while sumer ilast follows – here most sweetly and delicately sung. Martin Best is very atmospheric in Man mei longelives weene, which he imbues with great feeling. More exultation is to be found in Tapster, drynker and the eponymous Thys Yool where the slightly rough edge to Best’s voice working well towards the mediaeval air. The next song Ja pour hyver is a contrast, with its deeply religious air. I loved the whistling that opens Gabriel from Heven-King – a pleasantly informal and carefree touch. This is nicely juxtaposed with the serenity of the next song, the Song of the Nuns of Chester. The following four songs - Hail Mary Full of Grace, As I Lay on Yoolis night, Edi be Thu, and Peperit Virgo - may be familiar to listeners from other mediaeval and Christmas compilations, and are all given excellent renditions here. The four Spanish songs are radiantly performed, combining lively and exultant melodies with more peaceful atmospheres. The four songs in the fifth section, "Mary’s Son, Goodwill on Earth", are all from fourteenth and fifteenth century England. There is much to be appreciated here - not least the justly much-loved There is No Rose, here given a fine performance. The disc concludes with a vibrant version of Mors Vitae Propitia.

This is a lovely disc – the selection of songs and dances is well-chosen to both complement and contrast, the Martin Best Ensemble re-create a mediaeval feel brilliantly, and the musicianship is of a high standard.

Em Marshall

see also review by Brian Wilson


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