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A Boston Camerata Christmas. Worlds of Early Christmas Music
CD 1: An American Christmas - Carols Hymns & Spirituals, 1770-1870 [61:46]
CD 2: A French Christmas - French Christmas Music, 1200-1600 [62:51]
CD 3: A Spanish Christmas - Music from the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, the Holy Land & the New World, 1200-1700 [72:34]
Boston Camerata; The Schola Cantorum of Boston (CD 1); The Brown University Chorus (CD 1); The Boston Shawm & Sackbut Ensemble (CD 2); Camerata Mediterranea (CD 3); Abdelkrim Rais Andalusian Orchestra of Fès (CD 3)/Joel Cohen
rec. 1985-1993
Full track-listing at the end of this review.
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 69415-0 [61:46 + 62:51 + 72:34] 
Experience Classicsonline

This is a most interesting and varied collection of Christmas music from the Old World and the New, spanning nearly seven centuries. The key performers are the Boston Camerata, who appear on all three discs and their then-Musical Director, Joel Cohen. Since these discs were made Cohen, who led the ensemble from 1969, has become Musical Director Emeritus and his place has been taken by soprano Anne Azéma, who appears as a most accomplished soloist on several items in each of the three programmes in this collection.

It seems evident that these recitals are the result of a considerable amount of research into not just the music but also into performance practices. However, there is nothing whatsoever dry or academic about the performances; they teem with vitality and enjoyment.

The American disc contains quite a bit of music that will be familiar to many listeners. In part this is because several of the melodies - if not the words to which they are sung - are familiar European tunes. Thus, for example, we hear an English tune in A Virgin most pure and another one in Sherburne - which turns out to be ‘While Shepherds watched their flocks’. In a neat reversal of this trend, however, the traditional tune, ‘Slow Traveller’ is heard twice and the second time the words are the familiar ones of the Coventry Carol. Much of the music in this collection is sturdy, self-reliant, and clearly music of the people. As such it’s highly evocative of what one might call Pioneer America

I don’t feel terribly qualified to comment on the contents of the second disc since medieval and early Renaissance music are genres to which I’ve never felt greatly attracted. What interests me, however, is the comment by Joel Cohen in his notes to the effect that Christmas time in France was a time when what one might term the “rude mechanicals” rubbed shoulders with the courtly. As Cohen says, “much of the French Christmas repertoire reflects the tumultuous, rough-and-tumble world of ordinary folk on a holiday binge.” So here Cohen and his expert performers treat us to quite a few earthy, festive numbers along with the more sophisticated compositions such as the Dufay Magnificat and the beautifully spun polyphony of the excerpt from Certon’s Mass ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon’.

If the American disc was the one that I most enjoyed in this collection, then the one that I found a delightful ear-opener was the third one, devoted to Iberian music. What a pot-pourri this is, reflecting firstly the mélange of cultures and traditions in Spanish music, in which Christian and Moorish traditions mingled. And then, when the Conquistadores crossed the Atlantic the process of cross-fertilisation was repeated, this time with Iberian polyphony meeting indigenous Indian influences. To King Alfonso the Wise (1221-1284) is attributed the composition of over four hundred Cantigas in the Galician language from which a small selection is included here. They are well worth hearing, especially with some of them enlivened by the accompaniment by the traditional Moorish instruments of the Abdelkrim Rais Andalusian Orchestra. We’re on more familiar ground with Victoria’s wonderful motet, O magnum mysterium, though I fancy that many listeners will be as disconcerted as I was by the brisk tempo chosen by Joel Cohen.

The second half of this disc takes us across the Atlantic to Latin America. I suspect I’m right in believing that all the composers featured in this part of the composers were intrepid souls who crossed the ocean for a new life in Spain’s young colonies. They took with them the musical style and syntax with which they’d grown up and it’s the subsequent fusion with the languages, rhythms and instruments that they found out there that makes some of the music they wrote so fascinating. I particularly enjoyed Tarara, tarara, an exuberant dance-like piece, with colourful percussion enlivening the mix, and Los coflades de la estleya, in which the story of the Three Wise Men is set to vibrant Latin American rhythms. Like so much else on this disc, this latter piece is performed with evident relish. That’s certainly true of the last offering, Convivando está la noche, a piece I’ve heard before. After a deceptively slow and solemn opening the music erupts into vivacious joy. It makes a splendid conclusion to the recital.

These three discs are packed with unfamiliar music, superbly performed, which will entertain and intrigue at the same time. For those of a slightly adventurous spirit this could be just the thing for a welcome seasonal change.

John Quinn

CD 1 An American Christmas. Carols Hymns & Spirituals, 1770-1870 [61:46]
Traditional Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme "Watchman of Zion" [1:09]
Traditional Kingsbridge [3:23]
Traditional Bozrah [2:55]
Traditional In those days came John the Baptist "Baptismal anthem" [1:31]
Traditional Hark! hark! what news the angels bring [1:52]
Traditional A Virgin most pure [3:28]
William BILLINGS Boston [1:55]
Traditional The Heavenly courtier [3:48]
Patsy WILLIAMSON Pretty home [1:17]
Traditional The midnight cry [3:20]
Traditional Wayfaring stranger [1:24]
Traditional Slow traveller [3:38]
John Jacob NILES I wonder as I wander [3:15]
Traditional Lully, lulla, thow littel tyne child "Coventry Carol" [4:11]
Traditional Lovely vine [2:13]
John Francis WADE Adeste fideles [2:11]
Traditional Still water [3:02]
Traditional While shepherds watched their flocks by night [2:11]
Daniel READ Sherburne [1:47]
Traditional Shepherds rejoice "Auld lang syne" [1:43]
Traditional Fulfilment (two versions) [1:26 and 1:26]]
Traditional Hush my babe, lie still and slumber [2:37]
Traditional Jesus, the light of the world [3:15]
Lowell MASON Joy to the World [2:10]
CD 2 A French Christmas .French Christmas Music, 1200-1600 [62:51]
Anonymous Oyez Seigneur comment parla [1:38]
Anonymous: O Oriens [0:42]
Traditional Le Jour de Noël [3:32]
Anonymous Lux hodie...Orientis partibus "Donkey's Carol" [2:36]
Anonymous Magnum nomen domini [1:28]
Anonymous Lux optata claruit [1:29]
Anonymous Virgo gemma virginem [2:49]
Anonymous Quando decet honore [1:45]
Gilles BINCHOIS Ave regina caelorum [1:51]
Arnold De LANTINS In tua memoria [4:02]
Cristóbal de MORALES Magnificat octavi toni [7:01]
Antoine BRUMEL Noe, noe, noe [1:36]
Claude de SERMISY Noe magnificatus est rex pacificus [2:50]
Anonymous Conditor fut le non-pareil [2:06]
Pierre CERTON Chantons Noël, menons joyeuse vie [2:02]
Claude GERVAISE Branle de Bourgogne [1:16]
Anonymous Or vous tremoussez, pasteurs de Judée [2:09]
Claude GERVAIS Et d'oú venez vous, Madame Lucette? [1:40]
Claude de SERMISY Disons neu a pleine teste [1:38]
Tylman SUSATO Het derde musyck boexken...alderhande danserye     Ronde et Saltarelle [1:20]
Nicolas MARTIN Nouvelles, nouvelles [1:33]
Pierre PASSEREAU Près Bethléem dans une éstable [1:39]
Claude de SERMISY Sur le mont de Sion [1:19]
Pierre CERTON Missa "Sur le pont d'Avignon"  Dona nobis pacem [2:15]
Anonymous O l'heureuse journée [2:29]
Claude GERVAISE Branle de Champagne [1:02]
Nicolas MARTIN Venez ouyr la trompettes [2:27]
Claude GERVAISE Branle de Champagne [1:05]
CD 3 A Spanish Christmas. Music from the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, the Holy Land & the New World, 1200-1700 [72:34]
Anonymous Respondemos, Dio de Abraham [2:18]
Alfonso el Sabio Cantigas de Santa María    
no 412, Virgen Madre groriosa [3:05]    
no 422, Madre de Deus, ora por nòs [5:38]    
no 1, Des oge mais quer'eu trobar  [3:17]   
no 320, Santa Maria leva [3:47]    
no 417, Nobre don e muy preçado [5:15]
Anonymous E la don don [2:35]
Càrcares Tau garçó, la durundena [1:52]
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA O magnum mysterium [2:33]
Anonymous Riu, Riu, Chiu [2:39]
Raimbaut de VAGEIRAS Calenda maya [6:23]
Alonso LOBO Cum audisset Joannes [2:04]
Gaspar FERNANDES Xicochi xicochi conetzintle [3:23]
Fabian XIMENO Ay, ay, galeguiños [3:35]
Gaspar FERNANDES Dame albricia mano Anton [3:19]
Juan Guitierrez de PADILLA Si al nacer o mi nino [5:38]
Antonio de SALAZAR Tarara , tarara [[2:57]
Juan de ARAUJO Los coflades de la estleya [5:43]
Santiago de MURCIA Cumbé [2:02]
Juan García de ZÉSPEDES Convidando está la noche [4:16] 


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