The Sixteen, a mixed vocal ensemble founded and conducted by Harry Christophers, has a repertoire ranging from plainsong to contemporary works. This album, Christus Natus Est: An Early English Christmas, includes works from the fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries. What's most notable about it is the impressive range of appropriate performance practices the group brings to this varied repertoire, which starts with chant and moves through folk-like carols to Renaissance motets. The chants have an impressive austerity, the carols are rustically buoyant, while the motets are sung with absolute purity and precision. The carols, which are not the familiar modern carols that are sung with regularity today, are the most easily approachable pieces on the album. They are strongly melodic, with relatively conventional harmonies, and while they may not displace the popular favorites, they are hummable and well worth the effort of getting to know, especially "Nowell, Nowell: Out of your sleep"; "Make we joy"; "Salutation Carol"; "Nowell sing we"; "There is no rose"; "Drive the cold winter away"; "The old year now has passed away"; "Angelus ad Virginem"; and, especially, the lovely "Hail Mary full of grace." The Sixteen's direct, unpretentious performances add to the group's immediate appeal. Many of the pieces are accompanied by a lively instrumental ensemble of Renaissance strings and drums. The diverse but accessible repertoire and the exemplary performances make this a CD that should be of interest to anyone looking for Christmas music from off the beaten path.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins