Medieval Christmas

Their program is varied, perhaps to the point of straining the coherency of theme. Secular and sacred texts sit side by side, while the musicís chronology spans the Winchester Troper (c. 1000) and the sixteenth-century motets of Clemens non Papa, with visits to the 15-c English carol, a Dufay chanson, and music of the late 14-c Ars subtilior along the way. Additionally, the text theme itself is diverseóapart from proximity in the calendar, what do the Feasts of Becket and the proto-martyr Stephen have to do with Christmas, medieval or otherwise?
The varied repertory here also seems to underscore that the ensembleónaturally enoughóis more at home in some styles than others; generally speaking, it is the earlier pieces that fare the best. The full and vibrant singing is well matched to the expansiveness of the Acquitanian polyphony (ìO primus homo corruit,î and ìLux refulgetî), and rhythmic panache engagingly enlivens both the robust conductus, ìAnnus renasciturî and the melismatic passages of Dufayís ìCe jour de lían,î where lombardic syncopations invite and receive appropriate verve. Equally impressive is the consortís mastery of the complex, anonymous ìDe quan quíon peut,î a subtilior work whose signature rhythmic density is handled with convincing ease. Additionally, in works like Arnold de Lantinsí ìDe quan quíon peut,î the consort is much at home with courtly grace, and the distinctive timbres of the individual singers allow one to savor the richness of the counterpoint.
However, the sixteenth-century pieces are perhaps less successful, at least to ears drawn to a leaner purity of tone. The fullness and individuality of tone is at times attractive here, as in the duet sections of Clemensí lengthy ìNato canunt omnia,î but in tutti contexts, these characteristics seem to constrain other expressive elements that might have come to the fore.
One of the riches of the recording is the consortís impressive facility with historical, regional pronunciations, a facility that adds much color to the performance and helps to punctuate the variety of the program itself. Medieval Christmas is devoted to that variety, offering aural glimpses of late-December festivities in an array of contexts. The earlier glimpses are the best of the lot, though all will surely gratify.
Steven Plank

image_description=Medieval Christmas
product_title=Medieval Christmas
product_by=The Orlando Consort
product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMU 907418