Even for many classical music lovers, music from before the time of Johann Sebastian Bach is terra incognita; there's so much of it, and where does one start? That issue has been addressed by a weekly radio program called Millennium of Music. Now originating from WETA in Washington, DC, this program reaches over 200 stations across the country. Its host is Robert Aubry Davis, whose love for this repertoire is as infectious as it is obvious. Millennium of Music is now twenty years old – older, if one goes back to Davis' special programs coming out of Washington, and also Jacksonville, Florida. This disc is the third in a series recognizing Davis' achievements and (one hopes) bringing old music to new audiences. The first two discs (15023 and 15024) were released by Valley Entertainment and continue to be available for purchase. This most recent release is a watershed because it is the first in-house production for Qualiton, a distributor of import labels that is based on Long Island.
Qualiton is in an excellent position to be collaborating with Davis. Currently, it distributes over a hundred labels. Several of these specialize in early music, an area with small but intense support relative to the rest of the classical music scene. In order to maximize its promotional resources, Qualiton recently hit upon the idea of highlighting these labels by creating a consortium that they dubbed "Gioia Antiqua." This new CD, then, is both an extension of Davis' work and a sampling of the early music riches that Qualiton has to offer. Twenty-two labels are represented on this 23-track CD, which, incidentally, is mid-price. Hungaroton appears twice, but this is only fitting, because this Hungarian label was the basis for Qualiton's operations from its inception in 1963.
Given this disc's format, it doesn't make much sense to comment on individual tracks. Suffice it to say that there's nothing haphazard about this collection. Its theme is the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the selections progress from the darkness that covered Earth during the crucifixion to the salvation of man by the risen shepherd Christ. Over twenty composers are represented, and occasionally Davis juxtaposes settings of the same text by different composers for purposes of comparison. Texts and translations are provided, and Davis' booklet notes "set up" each track much as he would do on his radio program. Compulsive early music fanatics might be disconcerted by the variety of composition and performance styles. Most listeners, though, will appreciate the format, which I found neither condescending nor confusing. If you're curious about what was going on in the musical world up to one thousand years before Bach's birth, and particularly if you're also a Christian, this CD (and its two predecessors) are highly recommended to you.
Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle