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The Christmas Story – Theatre of Voices, Ars Nova Copenhagen, Paul Hillier (2011) [Official Digital Download 24bit/88.2kHz]

The Christmas Story – Theatre of Voices, Ars Nova Copenhagen, Paul Hillier (2011)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/88.2kHz | Time – 01:05:08 minutes | 1,13 GB | Genre: Classical
Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz |  @ Harmonia Mundi
Recorded: January, 2011 at Garnisons Kirk, Copenhagen, Denmark

The full title of this album gives a good overview of its contents and artistic intent: the Christmas story told in chant, motets, dialogues and traditional folk carols. Listeners should be aware that it’s not a playful CD of “fun” holiday music, but a serious, thoughtfully assembled collection of Christmas music spanning the history of the Western European tradition, from plainchant to contemporary anthems and arrangements made especially for this album. Its format is based loosely on the Anglican service of Nine Lessons and Carols. Theatre of Voices, a mixed vocal quartet supplemented by organ and theorbo (or guitar), sings four lessons, three Biblical stories in Baroque Italian settings, plus the traditional We Three Kings. The carols, traditionally sung by the choir or congregation at the Christmas Eve service, are sung a cappella by the chamber choir, Ars Nova Copenhagen. The performances, led by Paul Hillier, are absolutely first-rate. Theatre of Voices, an ensemble of soloists, sings with exquisite purity, intonation, blend, and balance. Ars Nova Copenhagen has the same outstanding musical strengths, but simply by virtue of the relative size of the group, it makes a dramatic contrast in its contributions, which take up the bulk of the album. In spite of its size — only four singers on a part — it produces a wonderfully robust sound. The variety of the repertoire and the exceptionally high performance standards make this an album that should be attractive to anyone looking for a quality survey of Christmas music through the ages. The sound of Harmonia Mundi’s hybrid SACD is clean, well-balanced, and natural. –AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins

No matter which group he’s conducting (Ars Nova Copenhagen, Theatre of Voices, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, National Chamber Choir of Ireland), or what kind of program he’s creating, Paul Hillier always presents something unique, the musical selections invariably containing some surprises, the projects always creative and purposeful. Here he takes inspiration from the traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols, ingeniously substituting the usual scripture readings with 17th-century Italian “dialogues” that tell the Christmas story, but sung instead of read.
Yes, the idea is ingenious, and certainly “different”; but not only is this type of highly stylized, emotive, florid singing, embodied in these excerpts from Tomasi, Grandi, and Anerio, respectively extending from five to more than seven minutes, more than a little tedious when removed from its designed live-performance conception, but language also is a problem as the impact of these readings depends on knowing their meaning. As much as Hillier debated over the language issue for the “readings” (the reason he didn’t just go with Danish or Norwegian), the insertion of these dialogues neither solves the interpretive issues nor offers anything of particularly high musical value (Andrew Lloyd Webber versus Lerner & Lowe; John Tavener versus John Taverner).

That aside, the rest of the program returns considerable rewards both in the exceptional quality of the ensemble singing and in the interesting repertoire, from Howard Skempton’s haunting Adam lay y-bounden (choir directors take note) and William Byrd’s O magnum mysterium, to Niels Gade’s Barn Jesus i en krybbe lå (The baby Jesus lay in a manger) and the eight arrangements by Hillier himself–from Es ist ein Ros to We wish you a merry Christmas. For engaging programming and first-rate performances Hillier’s Carols from the Old and New Worlds with Theatre of Voices from 1994 (HM) remains a top choice–but there’s something for everyone here, especially listeners looking for a fundamentally traditional Christmas program that nevertheless dares to venture slightly off the well-trod path. Strongly recommended. –David Vernier, ClassicsToday

1 | Rorate coeli desuper • Plainchant 2’31
2 | Veni veni Emanuel • arranged Paul Hillier 3’19
3 | Es ist ein Ros entsprungen • arranged Paul Hillier 3’26
1-3: Ars Nova Copenhagen
4 | Dum deambularet Dominus in Paradisum • Biasio Tomasi (fl. 1611) 4’54
Dialogue: The garden of Eden: God, Adam and Eve, and the serpent
Theatre of Voices
5 | Adam lay y-bounden • Howard Skempton (b.1947) 1’36
6 | In dulci iubilo • arranged R. L. Pearsall (1795-1856) 3‘21
5-6: Ars Nova Copenhagen
7 | Missus est Gabriel • Alessandro Grandi (1586-1630) 7’27
Dialogue: the Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will bear a child
Theatre of Voices
8 | Puer natus est • Plainchant 3’03
9 | O magnum mysterium • William Byrd (c.1540-1623) 3’06
8-9: Ars Nova Copenhagen
10 | Voi ch’ai notturni rai • Giovanni Francesco Anerio (1567-1630) 6’10
A pastoral dialogue: The shepherds go to worship the infant Christ
Theatre of Voices
11 | Dormi, dormi, o bel bambin • arranged Paul Hillier 2‘01
12 | Liebe Hirten • arranged Paul Hillier 1‘36
13 | Andachtsjodler • arranged Paul Hillier 2‘26
11-13: Ars Nova Copenhagen
14 | We three kings • J. H. Hopkins (1820-1891) 3’55
Theatre of Voices
15 | Videntes stellam • Plainchant 0’33
16 | Personent hodie • arranged Paul Hillier 1’51
15-16: Ars Nova Copenhagen
17 | Herodes iratus • Plainchant 0’37
18 | Vox in Rama • Plainchant 1’11
17-18: Ars Nova Copenhagen
19 | Uebers Gebirg • Johann Eccard (1553-1611) 2’47
20 | Maria wallt zum Heiligtum • Johann Eccard (1553-1611) 3’12
21 | The holly and the ivy • arranged Paul Hillier 2’47
22 | Barn Jesus i en krybbe lå • Niels Gade (1817-1890) 1’56
23 | We wish you a merry Christmas • arranged Paul Hillier 1’34
19-23: Ars Nova Copenhagen

Theatre of Voices:
Sopranos – Else Torp, Abbi Temple
Alto – Linnéa Lomholt
Tenors – Chris Watson, Johan Linderoth
Bass – Jakob Bloch Jespersen
Theorbo & guitar – Fredrik Bock (Theorbo (tracks 4, 7, 10) by Ivo Magherini, Bremen, 2007; Baroque guitar (track 14) by Sebastian Nunez, Utrecht, 2010)
Organ – Bine Bryndorf (Organ (4, 7, 10) by Henk Klop, 1990, 4 stops: 8’, 4’, 2’ & Quint; Tuning: A = 440 Hz, quarter-point meantone)
Ars Nova Copenhagen:
Sopranos – Else Torp, Hilde Ramnefjell Dolva, Louise Skovbæch Korsholm, Abbi Temple
Altos – Kristin Mulders, Ellen Marie Brink Christensen, Linnéa Lomholt, Sine Tofte Hannibal
Tenors – Tomas Medici, Christian Damsgaard, Jakob Skjoldborg, Chris Watson
Basses – Asger Lynge Petersen, Jakob Soelberg, Thomas Kiørbye, Jakob Bloch Jespersen
Paul Hillier – artistic director


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