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Thys Yool - A Medieval Christmas
The Martin Best Ensemble
rec. 1988, Wyastone Leys, UK
NIMBUS NI5137 [64.07]

Of all of the recordings which Martin Best and his ensemble made for Nimbus back in the 80’s this is the one I have known and enjoyed the longest, in fact for some thirty years wheeling it out each festive season. It’s really my own personal favourite and the only time that the group tackled a programme of mostly medieval English pieces as opposed to the Troubadour repertoire for which Best, especially, became so well known.

The only composer’s name we really have here is the Trouvère Gautier de Coincy who tends to be known more as cleric, poet and ‘musical arranger’ meaning that he took popular melodies and added devotional words to them.

Another one of the pleasures of this disc is that the ensemble was augmented to including Lucie Skeaping with her very suitably folksy-voice and three other singers as well as extra instrumentalists utilising for instance flutes, pipes and a rebec and psaltery.

The twenty-three pieces are divided into six sections denoting the Christmas Season.
I. ‘Sing today of Joy’ is just Personent Hodie which begins with a dramatic, powerful drum and real dance like feel.
II. ‘Winter and Wassail’ including the rather ‘basic’ Tappster Drynker’
III. ‘A Child is born’ beginning with Gabriel from Heven King, mentioned in the Canterbury Tales. Martin Best goes in for a little bit of whistling in this number.
IV. ‘Mary Mother, Queen of Heaven’ a section which includes pieces from the 14th Century Spanish ‘Llibre Vermell’ such as the incredibly beautiful Mariam Matrem. There are other pieces from this same manuscript like Polorum Regina.
V. ‘Mary's Son, Goodwill on Earth’ and here the now famous 14th Century carol There is no rose is given a lovely performance. Finally
VI. ‘Rebirth’ which is just one piece Mors vitae Propitia a French conductus referring to Easter Day.

Some of the carols, dances and chants are presented in a way which I would say were as good if not better than you will find elsewhere. The 15th Cent Carol Hail Mary full of grace is given a forthright, energetic and committed performance in contrast the Song of the Nuns of Chester is sung beautifully and gently by just the female voices with a psaltery. Some pieces are not necessarily connected with Christmas, like Miri it is but are concerned with the winter season and Man miei longe him liveth mean concerns the fragility of life. So there is a good mixture of tempo and mood throughout the CD.

Most of the music is anonymous and can be dated to a period from the early 13th Century to the late 15th Century. The booklet offers us the texts and the ones in French and Latin are just given in translation. Best has written a brief paragraph about the background to each piece.

Gary Higginson

Previous reviews: Em Marshall-Luck ~ Brian Wilson ~ Bruce McCollum

Personent Hodie (14th Cent) [2.02]
Judas and Wenceslas (14th Cent) [1.31]
Gautier de COINCY (c.1177-c.1236) Hyer Martin [5.07]
Miri it is (13th Cent) [1.52]
Man miei longe (c.1250) [5.26]
Thys Yool (c.1396) [1.03]
Tapster, drynker (c.1450) [1.15]
Gautier de COINCY Ja Pour Hyver [4.27]
Gabriel from Heven-King (13th Cent) [2.26]
Song of the Nuns of Chester (c.1425) [3.11]
Hail Mary Full of grace (15th Cent) [4.11]
As I lay on Yoolis night (c.1330) [3.39]
Edi be thu (13th Cent) [2.09]
Richard de LEDREDE (c.1320) Perperit Virgo [2.49]
O Virgo Splendens (14th Cent) [2.49]
Alfonso el SABIO (d.1281) Loor de Santa Maria [1.56]
Polorum Regina [14th Cent) [2.57]
Mariam Matrem (14th Cent) [2.02]
I pray you all (c.1375) [2.09]
There is no rose (c.1420) [4.42]
Caligo Terrae Scinditur (c.1325) [2.01]
Princeps Pacis (15th Cent) [3.13]
Mors Vitae (French c.1200) [1.17]

Martin Best (voice, lute, psaltery)
Lucie Skeaping (voice, rebec, fiddle)
David Corkhill (dulcimer, drums, bells)
Jeremy Barlow (pipes, recorders, transverse flute)
Donna Deam (soprano)
Kristine Szulik (alto)
Angus Smith (tenor)

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