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on December 15, 2011 (December 15, 2011)
Paul Hillier, Theatre of Voices, Ars Nova Copenhagen
Harmonia Mundi HMU807565
This new Christmas disc from superb Danish choir Ars Nova Copenhagen and its smaller cousin the Theatre of Voices must surely contain some of the most gorgeous choral singing ever committed to disc.
Not only that – by taking the traditional English Nine Lessons and Carols format and adapting it for a continental audience by including chant, motets, dialogues and traditional folk carols, Dorset-born conductor Paul Hillier, who has been resident in Denmark for nearly ten years, creates a “Christmas oratorio” of truly universal and indeed secular appeal.
Here are classics known to all – including Veni veni Emmanuel, In dulci Jubilo, We Three Kings and We Wish You a Merry Christmas – some in attractive new arrangements by Hillier – together with lesser-known works and dialogues taken from the early 17th-century Italian oratorio repertoire by Biasio Tomasi, Alessandro Grandi and Giovanni Francesco Anerio.
The narrative structure is further strengthened by the works – all from Italian, German, Danish, English and American sources – being grouped together under headings such as Advent, Annunciation, Nativity and Epiphany.
Hillier, himself an accomplished singer, formed the Theatre of Voices in 1990 and has been conducting the Grammy Award-winning chamber choir Ars Nova Copenhagen since 2002, to great acclaim. This latest disc, filled as it is with music and singing of exceptional beauty, should further their already stellar reputations. If you only have time to sample just one track, try the lovely setting by Niels Gade of words by Hans Christian Andersen, Barn Jesus I en krybbe lå. Magic.