10 Jan A great Gramophone review
GRAMOPHONE – January 2020
It seems extraordinary that this should be Gothic Voices’ first Christmas-themed album; nevertheless, it has been worth the wait to hear these well-known works performed by this ensemble. Choosing music for the Advent and Christmas season, including the Feast of the Annunciation (commonly referenced at Christmas in medieval times), Gothic Voices certainly don’t shy away from much-loved treasures such as the 14th-century Angelus ad virginem, where solo verses alternate with sprightly three-part harmony. Their textures are always buoyant: listen for the fourth verse, which describes the Virgin’s swollen womb, where they use an atmospheric vocalised drone.
This Annunciation storytelling vibe continues as Gothic Voices revisit Nowell nowell, nowell (‘This is the salutacion of th’ aungell Gabriell’), previously recorded by Leigh Nixon with a crystal-edged clarity (Hyperion, 2/97). This new performance has solo verses sung by Julian Podger with similarly striking early pronunciation but less angularity. The refrains are performed with all four voices in unison suggesting a more celebratory tone. Elsewhere carols with obvious rejoicing are warmly performed; take, for instance, the anonymous 15th-century Alleluya: A nywe werk is come on honde, which has fluidity and familiarity but avoids the more extrovert style of, say, Trio Mediaeval (ECM). Smooth too is the beautiful performance of Edi be thu, heven queene, Steven Harold’s solo verses displaying a similar flow to John Potter with The Dufay Collective (Chandos, 2/96), yet Gothic Voices’ all-vocal approach again incorporates vocalised harmonies, which creates a most attractive cushion of sound.
The works recorded here are grouped thematically such that plainsong, carols and motets all expand on central themes. The Christmas section contains familiar carols to satisfy all audiences including Lullay, lullay: Als I lay and Ther is no rose of swych virtu but also gems of true Gothic Voices territory such as Queldryk’s (fl c1400) Gloria and a Sanctus by Leonel Power (d1445). The Gloria in particular is a model of nimble, thrilling performance. Living up to their new tagline, ‘unaccompanied close medieval harmonies’, this album will surely become a firm seasonal favourite.