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Nowell Synge We Bothe Al And Som
Gothic Voices
rec. 2018, Boxgrove Priory, UK
LINN CKD591 [77.10]

This is a varied and generously filled disc of carols, mass movements and plainchants from the 12th to the 15th Century. The concept behind the selection of pieces is, as Julian Podger in his very thorough booklet notes says, to couch - rather tenuously I feel - the recital as a 15th Century entertainment, but one that explores the music of four centuries.

Gothic Voices has recorded Christmas music before - for example, the well-known fourteenth century carols Ther is no rose and Lullay, Lullay in the days of Christopher Page on their 1990 recording ‘The Service of Venus and Mars ’ (CDS 44252) - but never have they devoted a whole disc to these oft-recorded pieces. It is interesting to compare this with those earlier versions where Margaret Philpot was the contralto. She had to sing only five verses of the latter carol but Catherine King here wades through all fourteen - very admirably, I must add.

What makes Gothic Voices’ performances a little different from, say, the group Alamire (Deo Gracias Anglia!, Obsidian CD709) is that they sing completely a cappella. In addition, we have motets and mass movements by well-known, named composers like Lionel Power and Walter Frye.

The first twelve tracks are given over to music for Advent ,the preparation for the birth of the Saviour, and open with the melody we all know as ‘ O come, O come Emmanuel’ but here entitled Veni, O Sapientia, reminding us of the so-called ‘O Antiphons’ associated with the last week before Christmas. The remaining thirteen tracks are Christmas pieces, including the carol which gives its name to the CD, although some like ‘Ther is no Rose’could have been in either section.

Incidentally, in the early Middle Ages a carol was simply a round dance, which the church looked down on as it was often performed by young women in order to attract young men. Carols can of course be sung in any season but by the 15th Century the twelve days following Christmas were a time of celebration and the carol-singing.

It is especially good to have pieces from the Old Hall Manuscript on the disc, although they have been recorded several times before. Queldryk’s Gloria offers a rapid declamation of the text, shared between the three parts, in the prevailing French style of the period but Cooke’s quite complex polyphony in his Ave Regina Caelorum elaborates on the cantus firmus in the lower part in the traditional way. But who were these men? Queldryk also has a Credo in the manuscript and may have been a Cistercian at Fountains Abbey. Cooke seems to have served at the Chapel Royal and has left us nine compositions. These men were probably active when the beautiful Wilton Triptych was created for King Richard II, of which a segment beautifully adorns the cardboard CD case. We also have a polytextual isorhythmic motet by Dunstaple from the early years of Henry VI.

As an example of how Gothic Voices adds interest to the performances, the famous Angelus ad Virginum is given in three parts but for the fourth verse the lower voices supply a held drone under the tenor solo. They do a similar thing in a delightfully imaginative presentation of the two-part Edi be thu. Another nice touch is at the end of the disc, when the wonderfully joyous Nowell: Owt of your slepe with its typically English, frank, compound rhythms is broken for a minute with the plainchant Cantata Domino. Of course, you can programme your CD player to miss out that track if you wish. There is a variety of texture throughout the disc to keep your interest: monophonic, chant, discant style and polyphony.

Two pieces were new to me and possibly to you, too: the two-part Benedicite Deo and Resonet, intonet.

Ultimately, this is not my favourite of Christmas Early Music discs and I don’t find Gothic Voices to be sensitive enough to dynamic shadings, vocal colouring and tempo variation. Of course, you may think that quite irrelevant when really we have no idea how the music was originally performed. Even so, there is enough here to enjoy and some very fine singing indeed; just listen to the delicious performance of Power’s Sanctus. I am glad that they have turned to this always enjoyable repertoire and I’ve no doubt that I will pull this disc off its shelf for the next umpteen Christmas seasons.

Gary Higginson

1. ANON: Veni O Sapientia [2.51]
2. ANON: (14th Cent) Angelus ad Virginem [3.00]
3. ANON: (15th century) Alma redemptoris mater: As I lay [2.29]
4.  John DUNSTAPLE (c.1390-1453) Gaude Virgo salutatis/Gaude Virgo singularis/Virgo gemma caeli luminarium [3.53]
5. ANON (15th Cent): Nowell, nowell, nowell
6. John COOKE (c.1385-1442) Ave Regina caelorum
7. ANON (12th Century) In natali novi regis [2.38]
8. ANON (15th Cent) Alleluya: A nywe werk is com on honed [3.58]
9. ANON (15th Cent) Mervele not, Joseph [4.13]
10. ANON (13th Cent) (Edi be thu, heven queene [4.03]
11. Chant: O Sapientia [0.45]
12. Walter FRYE (d.1475) Ave Regina caelorum [2.36]
13. ANON (14th Cent) Lullay, Lullay [9.31]
14. ANON (15th Cent) Ecce, quod natura
16 Queldryk (fl.c1400) Gloria [2.12]
17. ANON (15th Cent) Ther is no rose of swych virtu [3.06]
18. ANON (15th Cent) Benedicite Deo [4.11]
19. Lionel POWER (d.1445) Sanctus [4.14]
20. ANON (12th Cent): Resonet, internet [2.08]
21. ANON (15th Cent) Nowell synge we bothe all and som [1.59]
22. CHANT: Puer Natus est nobis [0.58]
23. ANON; Nowell:Owt of your slepe [1.23]
24. Chant: Cantate Domino
25. Nowell: Now man is brighter [1.25]

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