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Fanfare (US) 1 - The still, crisp air is bracing, the moonlit drifted snow sparkling, and the shimmering icy halos of Michala Petri’s recorder lovely indeed. And is that a star I see in the east?

Ronald E. Grames

LET THE ANGELS SING: European Christmas Carols and Songs in New Arrangements for Recorder and Choir • Michael Bojesen, cond; Michala Petri (rcr); Danish National Voc Ens • OUR RECORDINGS 6.220615 (SACD: 52:20 Text & translation)
This program of familiar Christmas music has everything going for it. The Danish National Vocal Ensemble is the elite vocal group of the three superb choirs of the Danish Radio. Conductor and arranger Michael Bojesen is an important name in Danish music: director for most of the Danish Radio ensembles, and a noted composer and educator. And recorder virtuoso Michala Petri is, of course, a legend in her own time. The result is an absolutely exquisite program of carols and songs from around the world, dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries, treated with the utmost respect in arrangements that are at once traditional and refreshingly new. Most offer accompaniment by recorder in various ranges, although a couple, for contrast, are for the 20-voice chorus a cappella, and a particularly nice arrangement of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear features the 11 men of the chorus. All are sung in English, regardless of country of origin, though the In Dulci Jubilo arrangement alternates between English and Latin in a translation of Heinrich Suso’s 14th-century mixture of German and Latin, and others such as Unto Us is Born a Son and Blessed Be That Maid Mary retain their few lines of Latin.
Everything about this release is perfect: the purity and precision of the choral singing, the traditional but never hackneyed selections, the total lack of arranger-perpetrated bombast and cleverness that can afflict such enterprises, the charming addition of the recorder in descant, the extraordinarily open and natural sound, and the attractive presentation. I have no doubt that I will be revisiting this SACD when the season is more appropriate—I’m writing this as warm fall breezes blow through my listening room—and am only sorry that this notice will not appear in the journal itself until after this year’s Christmas has passed. Those who follow Fanfare online will see it in plenty of time.
If I have any reservation at all, it is regarding the rather cool refinement of the readings themselves. That is a strange thing to complain of, but for some, seasonal music demands a more expansive warmth of expression to which these performances do not aspire. These are not home-by-the-fireside caroling performances; they are walking-in-the-snow-covered-fields-at-night performances. The still, crisp air is bracing, the moonlit drifted snow sparkling, and the shimmering icy halos of Michala Petri’s recorder lovely indeed. And is that a star I see in the east?
Just so the reader knows. Fanfare, October 2015, Ronald E. Grames

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