October 20, 2006
Every year about this time a Christmas recording appears among the several early arrivals that claims the kind of attention that will keep it near the CD player for the duration of the holidays. The idea of a Celtic-themed Christmas program certainly isn't new, but this one offers the especially happy combination of soprano Meredith Hall with the crack early-music instrumental ensemble La Nef--and the selections are intelligently chosen, interestingly varied, and thoughtfully organized.
The mix of vocal and purely instrumental tracks includes the opening title song, a starkly beautiful, plaintive tune whose words ask us "to keep with pure hearts" as we remember "the infant in Bethlehem". Later comes a rendition of the Coventry Carol that cleverly invokes the style of an ancient funeral procession, followed by a delightful smattering of dances (a jig, a couple of reels) and some lullabies. We also hear the traditional words to What Child is This? sung to the tune of My Lagan Love.
Hall's clear, appealingly vibrant soprano ably captures the different moods and "flavors" of each song, from contemplative, darker, or sweeter, to light, lively, and bright. Yes, I suppose a little more edge or timbral complexity would have given the interpretations just that much more character, but Hall is a very fine singer who easily draws and holds our attention. And thankfully she doesn't overdo the dialects.
Her instrumental partners are very experienced practitioners of this kind of music; they know about style, and they're very adept at both producing idiomatic arrangements and making transitions that keep the music flowing logically and smoothly from track to track. There are one or two selections I would have excluded ("A cogie of ale" isn't quite up to the quality of most of the rest of the material), and the track and song listings are somewhat discombobulated, but in all, this is a smart and expertly performed Christmas program that really does deserve some serious attention during your holiday festivities.
David Vernier - Classics Today.com