The music on this new Blue Heron disc is what one might have heard as Christmas approached in an English church in the 1440s. Things have changed a bit since then: they hadn’t heard of Kickstarter yet for one, though something of the same sort helped finance building the cathedrals, if I got Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth mini-series right (I wasn’t really paying attention). But this beautiful music must have impressed the English peasant at least as much as it did me. The music fills one with awe and wonder. One of the cool things, though, is that some of the carols are sung to actual English words. Here is a stanza from Angelus ad virginem, whose lyrics were a 13th century English translation of the original Latin:
Gabriel, fram Heven-KingThe odd phrasing and bits of Latin left in Middle English adds extra charm to these songs. There is so much scholarship behind these performances. Even the harp Scott Heron plays in a number of pieces is based on instruments in museums, and paintings like this one by Hans Memling.
Sent to the maid sweet,
Broute his blissful tiding
And fair he gan hit greet:
- Heil be the, flu of grace aright!
For Godes Son, this Heven-Light,
For manned love will man bicome and take
Fles of thee, Maide bright,
Manken free for to make
Of sen and delves might.
But this scholarship is worn very lightly, and is never allowed to intrude on the musicianship or the obvious pleasure the group takes in this music. This live album is perhaps a bit of a break for the group following their major Peterhouse Partbook project, and before their upcoming Ockeghem@600 project. It’s a perfect hour of celebration and wonder for all of us during the Christmas season.