The Boston Camerata,
A Renaissance Christmas
(Elektra, 1986)

Some people want more out of their holiday music experience than the seasonal novelty songs they pump endlessly out across the airwaves on pop radio stations.

For something a little more traditional, and a little more ancestral, give the Boston Camerata a try. A Renaissance Christmas is, according to the comprehensive liner notes, an example of the ages-old "reconciliation between high theological mystery and lowdown revelry." The music, 25 tracks in all, is drawn from the 15th, 16th and early 17th centuries.

It's an extraordinary listening experience. The simple instrumental arrangements serve to highlight the intricate, well-crafted vocal parts. The voices of the Camerata are strong and flawless in tone, and the music serves equally well as background atmosphere as it does for concentrated listening.

Conducted by Joel Cohen, the Boston Camerata has compiled a very authentic-sounding collection of tunes from the Renaissance. Much of this album's work would sound very appropriate in a church setting -- a setting defined even further by periodic readings of brief passages from the Gospel of Luke (spoken, I might add, by Edmund Brownless in the time-appropriate dialect of England's 16th-century Tyndale Bible) -- although some pieces have less liturgical origins.

Tunes include "Nowell: Dieus vous garde," a 15th-century English carol believed to include the first musical reference to Father Christmas, "Gaudete, gaudete," the Gregorian chant "Kyrie eleison," German carols "Joseph, lieber Joseph mein" and "Est ist ein Ros' entsprungen," the dance "Ungaresca," the French carol "Nouvelles, nouvelles," and many more.

Lyrics (and, when needed, translations) are provided for all of the songs, and there are brief notes on the background of each selection.

The Camerata consists of sopranos Roberta Anderson and Anne Azema, tenors Edmund Brownless and Bruce Lancaster, baritone Joel Cohen (who also plays lute), countertenors Kenneth Fitch and Fred Raffensperger, and bass Frank Albinder, plus Marilyn Boenau on dulcian, recorders, ocarina, shawm and xylophone, Jane Hershey on bass and tenor viols and recorder, Carol Lewis on treble and bass viols and vielle, and Mack Ramsey on sackbut, flute, recorders, lute, pipe and tabor. Guests are Tom Coleman (contrabass), David Ripley (bass) and Dan Stillman (shawm).

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy it from