Medieval music was among the trends in 2019 holiday-season releases, usually mixed with music of other periods. On this release by the veteran group Gothic Voices, the program is all medieval, raising the challenge for the performers of adding variety. This music had a liturgical function, and nobody would have just run through a program like this in medieval times. Moreover, all the music is sung a cappella. Clearly, this is not an album for listeners looking for a set of Christmas favorites; a good deal of the music, especially that from the English Old Hall manuscript, will be obscure even for medieval music fans. However, there's quite a bit of variety and interest here if one listens for it, and the singing is clean, strong, and never self-consciously mysterious. The "medieval England" rubric covers four centuries of music, and Gothic Voices mix things up, including chant, the earlier forms of medieval polyphony, anonymous songs, and the first stirrings of Renaissance third-based vertical harmony in works like John Dunstaple's Gaude virgo salutata. In some of the latter group, what would grow into a pastoral Christmas mood can be heard. Furthermore, there's an interesting division between Advent and Christmas pieces. This release is for the listener who has heard one or two medieval English Christmas pieces and is interested in the wider repertory.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Gaude virgo salutata / Gaude virgo singularis / Virgo mater comprobaris / Ave gemma caeli luminarium