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Sweetness and Light From American Bach

Jason Victor Serinus on November 22, 2010
What Sweeter Music

To celebrate the season, American Bach Soloists has remastered the American Bach Choir’s lovely 2002 Christmas CD, What Sweeter Music. Available for a limited time for $7, the CD offers 15 Christmas carols from the past (English traditional) and relative present (Morten Lauridsen’s “O magnum mysterium” and John Rutter’s equally accessible “What Sweeter Music”). The sweet purity of the female voices, the lovely clarity of the acoustic, and a careful selection whose tunes emphasize celebration over all else are self-recommending.

Conductor Jeffrey Thomas tempos are ideal. An example is the title track, whose beautiful flow allows us to bask in the music’s simple, sonorous beauty. It helps that the 23-person choir is in top form. Except for a little roughness near the start of the title track, the singing is exemplary.

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The program was recorded in 2002 at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere. The recording engineers, early music specialists David Taylor and Hanneke van Proosdij, managed to find a perfect balance between up-close clarity and the natural resonance of the church acoustic. They also do a fine job of capturing the sound of John Karl Hirten’s delightful, recent vintage Frobenius & Sonner organ, which enhances a few of the tracks.

To make the CD available at low cost, ABS foregoes printed liner notes. Instead, it directs purchasers to notes and texts. While some folks may be comfortable with cozying up around the proverbial fire with the not so traditional iPhone, iPad, or computer in their lap, the truth is that very few of us read the lyrics as we listen to Christmas carols. In fact, some may find the celebratory melody of “In dulci jubilo” more uplifting when they don’t read words such as “Deeply were we stained/ Per nostra crimina.” Ignorance can help foster bliss.

In addition to Lauridsen and Rutter, the CD mixes music by Britten, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Gibbs, Ord, and Drake with carols from Poland, England, Germany, and Hungary. Arrangers include David Willcocks and Zoltán Kodály. There are tons of Christmas CDs on the market, but this one’s beauty will tempt you to forego stuffing it in a stocking and instead immediately hit play.

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