Taverner Choir / Andrew Parrott / Taverner Consort

The Promise of Ages: A Christmas Collection

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The BBC has said that this release might be named Quite Simply the Best Christmas Album Ever. Even though it is a reissue, certainly it was at the top of the crop of a group of very strong British releases in 2014, a year when a great many conductors and ensembles shook off long-established formulas and explored fresh ways of looking at Christmas music. No such effort in a long time, however, has been as genuinely novel and at the same time filled with simple beauty as this one by the Taverner Consort & Choir under director Andrew Parrott. Annotator Eric van Tassel points to the themes in broad outlook: the role of Mary, and "the way Christmas music, as far back as the Middle Ages, married the 'high art' of educated people with the spontaneous creativity of ordinary folk Christmas music is the original 'crossover.'" But it's the closer application of this second principle that's really ingenious. Parrott, backed by a suitably limpid sound from his choristers, weaves together music that hasn't been connected before, in a Christmas album or anywhere else. One element is American folk song, as notated by folklorist and composer John Jacob Niles. American vernacular music is often a bugaboo for English choirs, but Parrott sweats the diction details and produces a sound that, without being eerily precise in accent, reflects the contours of the American language. These pieces are paired with English, Irish, and Welsh traditional songs, along the way giving familiar songs a new (or, more accurately, old) twist. The medieval melody and polyphony that was the ultimate source of these "folk" tunes is included in its usual place. Finally Parrott sets all these against the work of British composers of the 20th century who in one way or another explored the simplicities of folk and medieval material. These range from Vaughan Williams to the entirely different Peter Maxwell Davies, and the result is a program that truly unites the "classical" and the "popular" into the indissoluble whole they should be.

Track Listing

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:47
3 1:58
Songs, Op. 35
5 1:57
A Ceremony of Carols
6 2:48
O magnum mysterium
7 1:54
Song of the Nuns of Chester
9 1:41
Song of the Nuns of Chester
O magnum mysterium
11 2:14
12 2:39
13 2:23
17 2:10
19 2:12
20 4:15
22 0:59
Carols, Op. 20b
23 3:16
A Ceremony of Carols
24 1:06
25 3:49
blue highlight denotes track pick