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For its album of Christmas music, British vocal octet Voces8 has put together an exceptionally attractive collection of classic carols and anthems mixed with less familiar works. The most striking aspects of the performances are a rare level of tonal clarity and a focused unanimity in the singers' vowels that produce a ringing, almost startling purity, which is enhanced by the crystalline, ideally resonant sound of Signum's CD. The focused tone allows the group to sound much larger than an octet, so the dynamic range of their performances is unusually broad and expressive, from the hushed opening of Coventry Carol to the rhapsodic fullness of In dulci jubilo. The sound has plenty of warmth, too, and the voices, which can blend so beautifully, have distinctive and colorful character when given solos lines. "Radiant" and "luminous" are adjectives that are perhaps overused in describing choral sound, but in this case they are fully deserved.

Jim Clements provides three new arrangements of traditional carols. They are notable for the way they capture and intensify the essential meaning of each carol. This is especially evident in his version of I Wonder As I Wander, which concludes with a wonderful, ecstatically wandering canon and which has the additional virtue of subtly and cleverly correcting the grammatical awkwardness of the first verse. The program is marvelously varied, but all of the pieces, whether written in the middle ages or the 21st century, are gorgeous examples of sumptuous choral writing, and these performance do them full justice. Highly recommended.

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