Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
A caveat before I sing the praises of this interesting release: although clearly and correctly described as 'A Cavalier Christmas' this is not a collection of merry gentlemen roasting chestnuts on an open fire but rather a serious and sobering exploration of those troubled times we call the English Civil War (1642-1651). During the early days of the conflict, the Puritan-influenced parliament sought to abolish holy days, and in particular Christmas Day ("the Old heathen's Feasting Day in honour of Saturn their Idol-God, the Papist's Massing Day, the True Christian Man's Fasting Day"). King Charles I - a saint according to some, and certainly the son of King James of Bible fame - continued to celebrate, even when driven from London by the Parliamentarians, and this disc is a re-creation of what he may have heard. We open with "See, The Word Is Incarnate" by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) followed by "Behold, I Bring You Glad Tidings" by William Byrd (c 1539/40-1623). Both composers died before the outbreak of war but their repertoire lived on. None of the other seven composers featured in the programme reach the heights of Byrd but all are worth hearing. I was particularly struck by the instrumental depiction of "Newark Siege" by John Jenkins (1592-1678) admirably played by the Chelys Consort of Viols, offering us a window into a unique era of our history. There are those who like to dress up in period costume and re-enact Civil War battles over a weekend and our conductor, Paul Gameson, is a musical historian, currently an associate lecturer at the University of York, leads the Ebor Singers along a similar path. I am not sure I would want to use much of this material in my congregation's Christmas service but I am very glad to have heard it.
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