It was back in 2005 that I first came across the Quadriga Consort.
It was their splendid disc - As
I walked Forth, recorded for ORF on CD349 - which I reviewed.
I thought then how wonderful it was that a group based in far-away
Graz, the second largest city in Austria, should feel so passionate
about British traditional music. By that I mean Celtic as well.
On that disc we had traditional tunes like ‘The Wraggle-Taggle
gypsies’ and music by the Irishman Turlough O Carolan who features
again on this new disc.
So here they are, seven years on, this time making Christmas
music or perhaps more precisely - as the CD title suggests -
winter songs from the British Isles the central focus of their
work. As before the prolific Niklaus Newerkla has arranged the
pieces for his ensemble of ancient instruments including recorder,
baroque cello, harpsichord and viola da gamba. The chosen pieces
are mainly from the late 16th into the late 18th
In the 2005 disc I felt that the arrangements were just right
to put across the quality of this simple but lovely music. This
time I feel that on occasions Newerkla has fallen prey to over-arrangement
of some of the pieces: I will come to those later. The collection
as a whole is an absolute joy and pleasure. Although I am writing
this in October it will certainly feature to be played during
the Christmas period for our guests also to enjoy. So let’s
look at some of the highlights and pleasures that await.
Contrasting tempi and contrasting textures are important with
a disc of almost twenty tracks. This especially if the programme
is played right through. With a CD of this nature you may well
do exactly that. For the most part Quadriga sustain our interest
as they move from vocal item to instrumental item practically
alternately. This means that pieces that have a text are sometimes
not sung. That was common at the time and is still common now.
For example Weelkes’ part-song ‘To Shorten Winter’s sadness’
gets some intriguing treatment by use of instruments alone.
What they do with Pat-a-Pan, the French traditional carol
is typical. There is a prominent drum-beat and the lovely folksy
voice of Elisabeth Kaplin sings each verse divided first by
one flute perhaps improvising around the melody then later by
two. Suddenly we emerge into a key that is a tone higher with
more instruments like the harpsichord joining the fray. After
the verse there’s a postlude jam session for everyone. This
is good fun and really captures the mood. The next track, as
it happens, offers exactly what I was mentioning above: contrasting
speed, just two slow moving recorders and a measured Scottish
Traditional melody for the somewhat melancholy but very beautiful
‘Our Saviour’s Lullaby’.Its Alleluia refrain moves into the
more relaxed major tonality.
On a Cold Winter’s Day is an Irish tune given throughout
in this version to the recorders. In this and elsewhere I like
the little acciaccaturas in the melody line which propel us
through the phrases.
To contrast that there follows an English melody for A Babe
is born all of a maid. This has been set in more recent
times by Mathias and Rubbra. Only strings accompany the lovely
voice of Elisabeth Kaplan, whom I never tire of hearing. This
is truly a long-forgotten melody. I am - and no doubt you will
be - very grateful to Newerkla for rediscovering it. The same
can be said of another wonderful winter song, The Moon Shines
Bright which also feels as if it came from the 16th
You may know the advent carol, This is the Truth Sent From
Above, in Vaughan Williams’ version of this ancient tune,
Newerkla has basically created his own version in a modal style
but has included pizzicato strings and weaving counterpoint.
The Wexford Carol is one of those which I feel has been
over-arranged. There are far too many ‘soupy’ harmonies especially
in the harpsichord part. No doubt it’s all in an attempt to
enhance the lovely melody but there is too little textural variety
for Kaplin to work with. She ends up singing in a mannered fashion.
I also feel similarly about Twas in the Moon of Wintertime,
a Canadian carol.
I can’t say that I find The Holly and the Ivy all that
successful either. Flagged up in the booklet notes as “combining
the English text with a traditional French melody”, and with
a specially composed second part, Newerkla also says that he
“wanted to create a sense of mystery and magic”. To me the harmonies
are rather laboured and lacking in appeal and mystery.
There are two Wassail carols. The better known melody is used
as a rousing first track. Later we have a Welsh carol entitled
Gower Wassail. With its jazzy syncopations and percussion
it is attractively arranged and pleasingly colourful. It’s quite
certainly one of my favourite tracks. The same goes for the
last track, a newly harmonised Deck the Halls, again
with liberal, morris-dancer style percussion. This is a case
when a final fade-out actually works.
The disc comes in a neat holder within a cardboard casing. The
texts are clear and boldly printed. Within the 34 pages, there
are several trendy black and white photos and a fascinating
essay by Albert Setlinger.
Go on, add it to your Christmas cheer and get a bit of Quadriga
A Wassail, A Wassail English trad. [2.38]
Twas in the Moon of Wintertime Huron (Canadian) trad. [3.16]
The Moon Shines Bright English trad. [3.13]
Tune No 176 by Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738) [1.26]
The Holly and the Ivy English/French trad. [4.05]
A Naoidhe Naoimh Scottish trad. [2.48]
To Shorten Winter’s Sadness Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623) [3.09]
Don Oiche Úd I mBeithil Irish trad. [3.55]
Christmas Eve-Christmas in Kilarney- Christmas Day in the Morning-The day before Christmas –medley Irish trad. [3.24]
Pat-a-Pan English/French trad. [1.51]
Tàladh ar Slànighear Scottish/Gaelic trad. [2.38]
On a Cold Winter’s Day Irish trad. [2.20]
A Babe is Born All of a Maid English trad. [4.43]
This is the Truth Sent from Above English trad. [3.42]
Wexford Carol Irish trad. [6.10]
Gower Wassail Welsh/English trad. [3.27]
Drive the cold winter away English trad. [2.41]
Deck the Hall English trad. [2.22]