Anonymous 4

The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols & Ballads for Christmas

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The nearly inexhaustible supply of medieval and Renaissance music for the Christmas season has happily provided Anonymous 4 with material for yet another holiday album. The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols & Ballads for Christmas draws on English and Irish sources as well as several from the New World: William Billings, Southern Harmony (1835), and a 15th century English ballad carol in a version collected in Kentucky in 1917. The American selections are especially fascinating, ranging from the exceptionally sweet folk hymns from Southern Harmony to the intricate counterpoint of Billings' late 18th century fuguing tune, Bethlehem, probably the most advanced music written by a North American up to that time. The singers invest the pieces with a distinctively American folk sound without resorting to twangy clichés, often in startling contrast with the straight, pure tone used in the English repertoire. That is hardly a surprise given the group's history and demonstrated skill in adapting to a broad variety of national and regional styles of vocal production. What is unchanging in their work is the life and spirit that the singers breathe into this music; there is nothing academic sounding about their scrupulous attention to the subtleties of the various vocal styles they bring to these wonderfully attractive pieces. The sound of Harmonia Mundi's hybrid SACD is characteristically clean and warm, with a natural, intimate ambience. The CD should interest any fans of the group, anyone looking for appealing new Christmas music, and anyone who loves top-notch a cappella vocal ensembles.

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