Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
The Boston Camerata are one of the pre-eminent early music ensembles, having been formed in Boston Massachusetts in 1954, initially as an adjunct to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' collection of musical instruments. The roots of this recording go back to the 1970s, when the Boston Camerata and its director (now Director Emeritus) Joel Cohen performed in concert and then recorded, for the Nonesuch label, a production entitled 'A Medieval Christmas'. This vinyl release soon became a best seller with the programme remaining in Camerata's repertoire for tours of North America and Europe, including one particular appearance at a festival in the Languedoc, France. There, Camerata's present director, Anne Azéma, then a student, heard the repertoire and took a particular interest in the Aquitanian polyphonic pieces. Later, as a Camerata singer, she performed this programme many times, as, over the course of the years, it has been re-imagined, augmented, and re-evaluated. What we have now is a new version of 'A Medieval Christmas' on a different label, quite different in many ways from the 1970s production, but, with its multi-disciplinarity and diversity of sources, still close to the original in spirit. Three female voices and two instrumentalists, each with many years of experience performing medieval music, all at the peak of their art, give us a grand tour of European music for Christmas from the 13th and 14th centuries. The words are generally Latin with translations provided in the CD booklet but you do not need to be a linguist to hear the joyful tidings. The music is accessible and while students of early music will appreciate the careful scholarship that underpins the recital, general listeners will enjoy the tunes. Listeners who appreciate the Anonymous 4 or the Medieval Babes will, I am sure, enjoy the Boston Camerata as well.
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