The title of this album by the Orlando Consort -- Medieval Christmas -- should be taken at face value -- this is not the kind of familiar merry Renaissance music that is sung and played by costumed revelers at madrigal dinners, this is unaccompanied vocal music primarily of the eleventh through the fifteenth centuries, presented without accommodation to the expectations of contemporary audiences. This is not recognizably "Christmas music," but it's beautiful in its strangeness. For the listener who is eager to hear Christmas music as Medieval Europeans would have heard it, this CD is a treasure. The very earliest pieces from the eleventh century Winchester Troper are among the first examples of polyphony, or multiple melodies being sung simultaneously, and the most recent works are early Renaissance motets. The anonymous fifteenth century motet "Lullay, lullow: I saw a swete seemly sight," sung in Chaucerian English, is particularly moving. The four-member Orlando Consort, which prides itself on its scholarship in the authentic performance practice of music of this period, including adherence to Medieval tuning systems, sings this rarified and austere repertoire with absolute tonal purity and balance, but also with passion and expressivity. Harmonia Mundi's sound is ideally resonant and full.
Medieval Christmas Review
by Stephen Eddins