Chanticleer, the American all-male vocal group, presents a disc of Christmas music ranging from anonymous 16th-century carols to contemporary jazz arrangements.
The most spellbinding moment of the collection for me comes in the opening moments: the perfectly-tuned harmony in Michael Praetorius’s Es ist ein Ros entsprungen is crystal clear and beautifully phrased.
Similar moments of gentle perfection come in their performance of Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium — surely the greatest Christmas carol ever written.
The piece ends with a sudden shift into triple time for the ‘Alleluia’ text, and, to give it real energy, it needs to be done slightly faster than Chanticleer’s rendition on this disc.
I suppose the kid-glove treatment is to be expected when performing such a famous piece, but it’s a shame!
A couple of famous carols are given an interesting treatment on this disc: O Dulci Jubilo is done in four verses, each a different composer’s arrangement. We begin with the traditional harmonisation. The second verse is supplied by the sparse, clear harmony of Michael Praetorius. This is followed by the towering eight-part arrangement made by Hieronymus Praetorius (an unrelated contemporary) in which it is sometimes hard to follow the tune, such is the complexity of the seven other parts!
To finish, Chanticleer chooses the unmistakeable polyphony of the masterful J.S. Bach. We only have to move forward about 150 years to reach Bach from the Praetoriuses, but the difference is palpable.
There is something for everyone on this disc, mixing as it does the famous (Silent Night, In the bleak mid-winter) and the obscure (Here is the little door, O virgo virginum).
Whether familiar or previously unknown, every track is brought to life by the impeccable musicianship of Chanticleer, making it a joy to listen to, from start to finish.