Recording of December 1993: On Yoolis Night

ANONYMOUS 4: On Yoolis Night
Medieval Christmas Carols and Motets
Anonymous 4
Harmonia Mundi 907099 (CD only). Robina G. Young, prod.; Brad Michel, eng. ADD? TT: 68:03

A disc of English medieval Christmas music is a logical follow-up to this group's enormously successful English Ladymass recording, not only in terms of its likely popular appeal (classical music stations which avoid the Middle Ages as a matter of policy will make an exception at Christmas), but also as a continuation of their exploration of the Marian repertoire. Indeed, nowhere is the Mariolatric aspect of medieval music, which may be a sublimation of the Troubadour Frauendienst after the destruction of the Languedoc, more evident than in the works written to celebrate the Savior's birth. Any casual reader of these texts might well wonder whether Jesus or His Mother was the central figure at the core of Christian belief.

None of this really matters. What's important is that the Marian repertoire, clerical and popular, contains some of the most beautiful expressions of medieval thought which have come down to us. Anonymous 4, with gloriously perfect intonation and exact sense of breath and phrase, are the ideal interpreters of this legacy of music. There are any number of medieval Christmas recordings to be had, but if your interest in the Middle Ages, or in the beauty of the human voice for its own sake, is serious enough, you'll absolutely want this. You'll probably be familiar with many of the works ("Gabriel from heven-king," "Als I lay on Yoolis night," "There is no rose of swich virtu," etc.), but you'll never have heard them better sung or—thank you, Robina—better recorded than here. "They sing like the angels," says Tageszeitung Berlin. Amen, say I.—Les Berkley

Footnote: A tough call this month, what with the swinging Joe Morello and Ronnie Earl albums, the Swinging Steaks CD, which is just as good as Richard Lehnert sez, the vividly vibrant Goldberg Variations from Blandine Verlet, and the astonishingly sensual Zap Mama album that Beth Jacques raves over. On Yoolis Night gets the nod, for the shiver it sent down my spine when I listened to it. But hey, there's nothing to stop you buying all of the above.—John Atkinson