For the record

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week -

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.

—J.M.K.

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