> The Story of Christmas Gardiner 462050-2 [JW]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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The story of Christmas in readings and music based on the Springhead Christmas Play

Robert COWPER Gloria in excelsis Deo
Plainsong Ave Maria, gratia plena
English Carol Angelus ad Virginem
Pierluigi da PALESTRINA Alma Redemptoris Mater
Basque Carol Gabriel’s message
Giovanni BASSANO Hodie Christus natus est
English Round Jolly shepherd
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK Hodie Christus est natus
English Carol Past three a clock
German Carol Er ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
English Carol There is no rose of such virtu
Lajos BARDOS Ave maris stella
Herbert HOWELLS A spotless rose
William BYRD O magnum mysterium
Heinrich SCHUTZ Ach Herr, Du Schopfer
English Carol This endris night
French Carol Entre le boeuf
Provencal Carol Guillo, pran ton tambourin
French chanson Psallite
Richard DERING Quem vidistes pastores?
Austrian Carol The cradle
William BYRD Lullaby
Mexican Carol El Rorro
English part song Once as I remember
John TAVENER The Lamb
Johannes WALTHER Joseph lieber, Joseph mein
John GARDNER Entry of the Three Kings
English folk song The King of all Kings
Robert ARMSTRONG Ring out ye crystal spheres
Thomas WEELKES Gloria in excelsis deo
Monteverdi Choir
John Eliot Gardiner
Recorded Church of St Peter and St Paul, Salle, Norfolk May 1998
PHILIPS 462050-2 [73.13]


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Between 1935 and 1981 a village nativity play took place in the Millroom at Springhead, home of the Gardiner family in Dorset, and the inspiration of Marabel, matriarch of the Gardiner clan. She directed the mime and her husband Rolf gave the readings which were interspersed with music and action. They were John Eliot Gardiner’s parents.

Enshrined in this CD is the pageant itself – bar one or two items which have been added and were either never performed or were composed subsequent to it – prominently John Tavener’s The Lamb. The play unfolds sectionally – Annunciation, Angels, Birth and so on – with each section clothed in music which is, in the main, slow and reflective, carols, sixteenth century polyphony, plainchant. Gratifyingly the geographical range is welcome – English, Dutch, French, Italian, Hungarian, German and Mexican included. In the play readings from such as the Gospels or from Milton would intersperse the music but here we have an unfolding musical tableau of the Christmas story. It’s invidious to select highlights – so well sung is everything – but it would be impossible to overlook Cowper’s Gloria, still less the inexhaustible Palestrina, whose Alma Redemptoris Mater is a four part motet of breathtaking beauty. Charles Wood’s trippingly sweet arrangement of the carol Past three a clock, Howell’s blemish free A spotless rose and the bracing appearance of John Gardner’s oboe interlude are additional pleasures.

Production values are high, the booklet a pleasure to read, the market – I suspect – small but the undertaking very well worthwhile.

Jonathan Woolf

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