The choral Christmas release might seem to have been done pretty much to death, but this an elegantly presented hardbound release, with its stark cover showing only the word Incarnation and the name McCreesh in a blue circle, serves notice that there are still ambitious, new takes on it. Conductor Paul McCreesh leads his 28-voice, a cappella Gabrieli Consort in a program of British polyphonic pieces mixed with medieval monodic tunes. All are fresh (the hymn Veni, veni Emmanuel is probably the only familiar piece in the bunch), unusual, and beautifully chosen to address the album's theme from a variety of unusual perspectives. British music fans will be especially pleased with the long-buried works by such composers as Kenneth Leighton, Francis Pott, Herbert Howells, and others, each seemingly awaiting only a performance that treated it as an individual. Choral singers will find in the album something to aspire to, with the added trebles of the Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir giving not a hint of a foreign accent. The sound engineering creates a marvelous atmosphere, mysterious yet clear. Yet above all these individual strengths comes a collective whole that will be appreciated by more than celebrants of Christmas, devotees of British choral music, or beautiful singing and engineering: the entire program holds together in a really uncanny way. It culminates in the early Benjamin Britten work A Boy Was Born, Op. 3, which is in the unusual form of choral variations. You might say that it lies somewhere between mature Britten and what might have happened if Gilbert and Sullivan had composed sacred music, but in this setting it comes beautifully alive as an exuberant expression of faith. Very highly recommended.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|A Boy was Born|