For the record
It’s hard to play favorites with Anonymous 4’s ever-expanding discography. The ensemble’s releases, invariably overseen by Harmonia Mundi’s acclaimed producer Robina Young, boast consistently superb performances, spacious acoustics, top-flight engineering, and elegant program notes. If oldtime American folk ballads and hymnody intrigue you, the group’s robust but well-blended work on American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption & Glory (2004) and Gloryland (2006) are “must hears”; fiddle and plucked strings expand the texture in the latter. But as we head into the holiday season, this may be the moment to check out the foursome’s Christmas-related CDs. On Yoolis Night: Medieval Carols & Motets (1993) presents the whole Christmas story, from prophecy through to the three Magi, via English repertoire from the fifth to the 15th centuries. Legends of St. Nicholas: Medieval Chant & Polyphony (1999) conveys tales relating to “the Christmas saint,” mostly derived from Frankish and English musical sources. Christmas Music From Medieval Hungary (originally titled A Star in the East, released in 1996) contains plainchant in a more ornamental style than was normally cultivated inWestern Europe, as well as a severe sort of polyphony that leaves an intensely purified impression. And Wolcum Yule: Celtic and British Songs and Carols (2003) offers carols with acclaimed harpist Andrew Lawrence-King assisting; here ancient, “pure” versions of the songs are interspersed with settings by more recent British composers, including Benjamin Britten, John Tavener, and Peter Maxwell Davies, showing off the ensemble in a sometimes unaccustomed light. Can’t decide? Harmonia Mundi has helpfully packaged all of the group’s Christmas releases into a four-CD box titled Noël: Carols & Chants for Christmas, which covers all the bases.