Nearly 100 years ago, in 1916, Enrico Caruso recorded Adam’s Christmas carol 'Minuit chrétiens', and between then and now carols have been set down on disc by many other top operatic celebrities, not least among them Joan Sutherland, Mirella Freni, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Juan Diego Florez and Dame Kiri te Kanawa, to mention just a few. Now, for this Christmas, comes a CD with a difference. Angela Gheorghiu has recorded 16 Romanian carols in new arrangements made especially for her, in which she vividly brings to life the authentic character and flavour of an ancient tradition she intimately knows, profoundly understands and has deeply loved all her life.
The title of the disc is the name of one of the carols: 'O, ce veste minunatã', which can be translated as 'Great tidings upon us'. This is the most well-known carol in the selection – others will surely be unfamiliar to many people outside Romania, and they include some songs that have been handed down orally through generations over many centuries. Hearing them sung by Angela Gheorghiu is a striking experience. One of this artist’s abundant great qualities is the bountiful harvest of varying colours and characterisation her voice expresses in differing poetic, dramatic and psychological situations, and here she infuses these vibrant and often poignant traditional carols with an individualistic folk-like timbre and pointed rhythmic animation that arises from her inner identification and lifelong familiarity with this music of her heritage.
The arrangements and orchestrations have been skilfully conceived as contemporary re-workings of ancient Romanian modes and sonorities, faithfully preserving the earthy, rustic essence of the ethnic originals within subtly woven canopies of modern instrumentation. The three composers commissioned to do this are all Romanian folklore experts: Dan Dediu, Christian Lolea and Constantin Arvinte. Lolea has made an especially haunting version of 'Coroana de trandafari', a carol about Mary sitting at a window waving an object that transpires as barbed wire: the crown of thorns that will be placed on Christ’s head before the crucifixion. The original carol arose in two versions, one for a chorus and one for pan pipes. Here both versions are combined and performed for the first time with a solo soprano, and the effect is touchingly affecting, with the modal pan pipes of long ago ingeniously suggested by a solo violin and Angela Gheorghiu’s evocative emotive inflections painting a spiritual landscape with heartrending pathos.
The carols are presented in the order of a journey, from 1 to 16, progressing from those about the future birth to songs about the birth itself and the happiness it brings. Accompanying Angela Gheorghiu’s consummate singing are the splendid Romanian National Radio Orchestra conducted by Tiberiu Soare and two choruses: the eminent Romanian Madrigal Choir, which has just celebrated its 50th birthday, and, for the two carols that are without orchestra, the recently constituted Accoustic Choir. The disc is released on the MediaPro Music label (Cat. No. 0309) and is also available as a download on iTunes. It is enchantingly magical.