Creator of the Stars
This Christmas disc ranges far and wide through the renaissance, from Dufay to Praetorius. The guiding thread is the transformation of plainsong into polyphony, with each piece being preceded by the chant from which it is derived. This approach introduces familiar Christmas tunes (Resonet in Laudibus and In dulci jubilo are better known to English-speaking audiences as
Those who recall the group’s earlier incarnation as Pomerium Musices in the 1970s (on Nonesuch) will find the tone smoother, the ensemble more homogeneous and slightly more technically accomplished. But compare their earlier recording (4/78 – nla) of Ockeghem’s Alma redemptoris mater: the trade-off is a less emphatic approach to phrasing and form, and perhaps also a loss in ensemble character. Here, I enjoyed the pieces based on German chants, but elsewhere the music’s sheer virtuosity stretches individual voices more than is comfortable: in Horwood’s Magnificat, for instance, the sopranos’ high notes are rather strained. Intonation is not quite on the level of the finest groups: the first note of Ramsey’s O Sapientia should have caused them to restart the take. What I miss most of all is the forthright direction, the willingness to take the music by the scruff of the neck, that made those earlier recordings so exciting. Pomerium is recorded at some little distance, in line with many American groups, and with its new, softer-focused image. In and of themselves, these performances have much to recommend them; as a Christmas collection, though, “Creator of the Stars” strikes an uneasy balance between celebration and mystery.