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Holidays with Anonymous 4, Stile Antico, and Montserrat Figueras

Anonymous 4 explores medieval English carol and early American Christmas song, Stile Antico serves up Tudor music, and Monserrat Figueras with Hesperion XXI.

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Anonymous 4 and the Cherry Tree

Aptly titled “The Cherry Tree,” the most recent recording in Anonymous 4’s distinguished series of releases is dedicated to medieval English carols as well as Christmas songs and ballads from early America. The program is inspired by the 15th-century ballad “The Cherry Tree Carol,” which can be found within the traditions of the British Isles and the United States.

The recording also features William Knapp’s carol “A virgin unspotted.” The words of the first verse give us a taste:

A virgin unspotted the prophets foretold,
Should bring forth a Savior which now we behold;
To be our Redeemer from death, hell and sin;
Which Adam’s transgression involved us in sin.

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Stile Antico and Puer natus est

The young British vocal ensemble Stile Antico continues their exploration of the English Renaissance on the Harmonia Mundi label. One of the ensemble’s more recent recordings focuses on Tudor music for Advent and Christmas. The centerpiece of the program is Thomas Tallis’ Missa Puer natus est, or Christmas Mass.

Sprinkled throughout the recording are motets by some of Tallis’ contemporaries, including William Byrd, John Sheppard, Robert White, and John Taverner.

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Not much is known about the circumstances surrounding the composition and first performance of Thomas Tallis’ Christmas Mass Missa puer natus est. It is an exceptional work, no doubt, even though it remains incomplete.

The mass is based on the plainchant Puer natus est, “a child is born,” which is an introit—or opening—for Christmas Day Mass. Tallis’ setting is powerful and exuberant.

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Montserrat Figueras

Our featured artist is soprano Montserrat Figueras, founding member of Hesperion XXI and wife of Jordi Savall. Over the years she has taken part, either as soloist or ensemble member, in many recordings on the Alia Vox label.

One of the more memorable was the recording Figueras devoted to Lullabies, or cradle songs. Entitled “Ninna Nanna,” the CD consisted of pieces of taken from Eastern and Western traditions, ancient and modern.

Within the program was a 17th-century Italian spiritual cradle song by Tarquinio Merula who brought together the story of the birth of Christ with that of the Passion. The words are set over a two-note bass line which mimics the slow rocking of a cradle.

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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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