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Cherry Tree

available at Amazon
The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols,
and Ballads for Christmas
Anonymous 4

(released on September 14, 2010)
HMU 807453 | 58'40"
The program heard on this new CD from the esteemed vocal quartet Anonymous 4 received the coveted Ionarts Best Holiday Concert award for 2009. In fact, a snippet from my review of that live performance, at Dumbarton Oaks, for the Washington Post is blurbed on the CD's back cover. The CD's title is drawn from a 15th-century English carol, in which the yet-to-be-born Jesus, inside Mary's womb, causes a cherry tree to bend down for his mother to pick its fruit, as a sign to her betrothed, Joseph. This song also provides the thematic thread that weaves together this selection of late medieval chant, 15th-century English polyphony, and Anglo-American folk song: although the Cherry Tree carol is found in Renaissance English sources, Marsha Genensky sings it in a version written down in Kentucky in the early 20th century (just a few steps in style from versions of the tune by Joan Baez or Peter, Paul, and Mary).

Purists worried about getting something other than the medieval and Renaissance repertory associated with the group can relax. The lion's share of the music on the disc is from Irish and English sources of the 14th and 15th centuries, some in Latin and some in Renaissance English. The folk tunes are taken from the collection Southern Harmony and one from the works of William Billings, sung in a way that emphasizes beauty of tone over trying to recreate some "unlearned" (ugly) sound. That fabled Anonymous 4 sound -- seamless blend, near-faultless intonation, sensitive phrasing in both chant and polyphony -- is back, too, after some years of the group being less in view in concert and on disc. (As many publicists and fans reminded me, the group's farewell tour in 2004 did not mean that Anonymous 4 disbanded -- how silly of me even to think such a thing! -- they continued to work together but with less frequency.) Johanna Maria Rose, who struggled vocally in the group's 2004 concert here in Washington, has been replaced by Ruth Cunningham, returning to sing alongside Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, who replaced Cunningham when she left the group in 1998. This is a no-brainer recommendation for a Christmas gift for that early music (or folk music) nut in your life.

1 comment:

freeze said...

I'm the nut! Thanks for this review!!