Published in Germany in 1582, the collection Piae Cantiones (Pious Songs) contained 74 songs and choral pieces in Latin and Swedish, many medieval in date and style, and encompassing both sacred and school songs. (A revised version from 1625 added 13 songs.) While the melodies were largely used at the Finnish cathedral school in Turku and other schools in Finland and Sweden, they proved influential across northern Europe and represented the stirrings of the Protestant hymn tradition, whose influence lasted well into the 19th century. These selections from Piae Cantiones offers some of the better known Christmas hymns, such as Puer natus in Bethlehem, Resonet in laudibus, Gaudete, Personent hodie, and the ever-popular In dulci jubilo, all used in Roman Catholic worship, though others may be more familiar in Lutheran services, due to the early acceptance in Germany by no less a composer, scholar, and arranger than Michael Praetorius. Andrew Lawrence-King and the Utopia Chamber Choir offer a program that captures the antique qualities of settings while giving the performances rich textures and colorful arrangements. Unlike many early music performances which employ only male voices in small numbers, the Utopia Chamber Choir consists of women and men in a 20-voice ensemble, accompanied by an ad hoc instrumental group of harps, percussion, bells, organ, and even a hurdy-gurdy, so the tracks are quite varied and never dull. This album is a great option for listeners who are seeking a new direction for their holiday music.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson