Deo gracias Anglia!
This seems to be the first CD devoted entirely to the glorious repertory of English carols from the early 15th century. The term ‘carol’ here defines a poetic form popular at the time, with refrain before and after all stanzas; and its music has a freshness and a rhythmic vitality that is highly distinctive and special to England. They are not necessarily for Christmas, though all but two of the pieces here are in fact for the Christmas season – and they have a direct muscularity that is refreshing alongside the insipid stuff we are so often fed in today’s Christmas seasons.
As an ingenious programming idea, the disc is based around a complete performance of the earliest surviving manuscript of carol music, the two-metre carol roll now in Trinity College, Cambridge, containing 13 carols and nothing else. They are taken in the order of the manuscript, with an intermission of various other carols after the seventh carol, the famous ‘Agincourt Carol’.
The performances are very cleanly done, with all texts presented complete (which is rare for recordings of this repertory) and all intonation absolutely excellent. With an ensemble of four solo singers and three instrumentalists, Alamire may be more slimline than in the past; but David Skinner directs them with absolute control. That is to say that, even if they do not always fit my own views on the articulation and projection of this marvellous music, they are always on a very high professional level.