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CD Review

As It Fell on a Holie Eve

Music for an Elizabethan Christmas

  • William Byrd:
  • Prelude and Voluntary
  • From Virgin's womb
  • O magnum mysterium
  • Vidimus stellam
  • Puer natus est
  • Out of the Orient Crystal Skies
  • Fantasy à 4
  • Antony Holborne:
  • As it fell on a Holie Eve
  • The Cradle
  • The Night Watch
  • Thomas Morley: Fantasia La sampogna
  • Anonymous:
  • Gentil Madonna
  • Sweet was the song the Virgin Sung
  • Pavan of Albarti
  • Gallyard
  • Allemana d'Amor
  • Divisions on Greensleeves/The old year now away is fled
  • John Bull: A Gigge: Dr. Bull's My Selfe
Julianne Baird, soprano
MSR Classics MS1365 57:00
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Summary for the Busy Executive: As of this writing, only 343 more shopping days 'til Christmas.

The Parthenia Consort of Viols takes on what I think of as its core repertoire – the string music of the English Renaissance, this time grouped around the general theme of Christmas. The eclectic program includes highly-wrought art, suitable for church (Byrd's intensely glowing "From Virgin's womb," for example) to folk art ("Lulla, lulla") to general high spirits associated with the season (Holborne's merry "As it fell on a Holie Eve").

Soprano Julianne Baird does all the vocals. A splendid musician, nevertheless she seems too careful in some of the items. She holds back, even to the point of consonants, so at times even a native speaker can't understand her English. Parthenia's an elegant group, who take chamber playing seriously. But her phrasing is pure gold. Occasionally I wish Parthenia would just bust loose in some way. The closest they get is their manic attack on John Bull's enthusiastically egotistic jig "Dr. Bull's My Selfe" and a "Divisions on Greensleeves" – variations on a tune hummed, whistled, sung, and hymned for at least 600 years – a performance that gradually creeps up on you as the virtuosity gradually rises, holds you, and subsides into a simple "God send you a happy New Year."

This album exemplifies quiet pleasures. Put another log on the fire or another shilling in the gas and sit back with a glass of something dark and mulled. Prepare for a bit of calm time-travel.

Copyright © 2014, Steve Schwartz