Deo Gracias Anglia!

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DEO GRACIAS ANGLIA! David Skinner, cond; Alamire OBSIDIAN CD 709 (65:09 Text and Translation)

One might be forgiven for confusing this disc with the similarly named Aeon release ( Fanfare 36:3), but only four songs are common to both programs, including the titular item. This disc is drawn from the Trinity Carol Roll, a parchment over six feet long that evidently dates from the early 15th century (certainly after 1415), written by Norfolk natives, but its provenance before its 19th-century donation to Trinity College, Cambridge, is unknown. The 13 Trinity carols are divided into two groups separated by another group of five contemporary carols (three instrumental, two sung) that are found in modern editions. The Trinity roll is the earliest source for the English polyphonic carol. The performers include four singers and three players, among them Andrew Lawrence-King, who has played harp with numerous early-music ensembles (on over 100 recordings, it says here). Here he uses a gothic harp and psaltery. The cover reproduces the Agincourt carol (that’s the title piece on this disc) from the Trinity roll. The performances, some of them dispensing with instruments, are charming. The notes are helpful, especially with reference to the Great Vowel Shift that occurred in the pronunciation of English later in the century. This is a subject that affects early music but is more often discussed under language arts. (Certainly many laymen must have wondered why English vowels are different than all other European languages.) The macaronic texts (Latin phrases that occur, usually as a refrain, in vernacular poems) are discussed too.

We have had endless collections of carols (usually Christmas carols, of course) on disc, even a few that focus on the medieval repertoire, but this is an unusually rewarding program. I pulled three or four CDs off the shelf for comparison, but they were all Christmas collections that included music of other countries along with a few of these English carols. It’s hard to find this sort of repertoire on disc; this seems to have little competition, either in content or quality of performance. This is really lovely, but I must ask once again for the proprietors to reconsider their decision to skimp on the cost of a decent package in favor of the flimsy piece of cardboard that they use.

FANFARE: J. F. Weber

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CD709

  • UPC: 658592070927

  • Label: Obsidian

  • Composer: Anonymous, English Polyph Anonymous, Traditional

  • Conductor: David Skinner

  • Performer: Andrew Lawrence-King, Michaël Grébil, Pamela Thorby