Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
While Shepherds Watched- English Christmas Music 1740-1830
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
A look back at (mostly) eighteenth century church music
Peter Durward Harris | Leicester England | 11/18/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Christmas music presented here may, in its day, have been mainstream, but these days it is about as far off the mainstream as you're likely to find. What makes this album different is the choice of material. While it works well as background music (if you enjoy choral music), the purpose of the album is to record for posterity some of the alternative versions of familiar songs. Therefore, to appreciate it, you have to find time at least occasionally to study it properly, even if you mostly play it as background music. The liner notes are informative and full lyrics are provided to all the songs.
The vocal group Psalmody comprises five sopranos, two female altos, one male alto, two tenors and three bass singers. Psalmody are backed by a congregation drawn from several different choirs, together with a large instrumental group called The Parley of Instruments. The list of instrumental credits looks like a mini-orchestra, but the instruments aren`t all used on all tracks. On most tracks, the voices dominate while the instrumentation is subtle, but the instrumentalists get a couple of tracks to themselves.
The title track has a particularly interesting history , as the lyrics have apparently been set to hundreds of different tunes, though I wonder how many of these tunes have been preserved. Here, there are five different settings for the title track, plus two others with different but derivative lyrics (As shepherds watched their fleecy care, There were shepherds abiding in the fields). Among the five based on the standard lyrics, one of them (track 9) has the tune more commonly associated with the Yorkshire folk song, On Ilkley Moor baht 'at. Actually, this particular arrangement of the title track pre-dates the folk song.
With seven of the fifteen tracks being variations of one song, it would be easy to pass over this album. Actually, this song has become one of my favorite Christmas carols, partly because I don't come across it very often on the kind of Christmas albums I buy, which are mostly American. Yes, there are American albums that feature While shepherds watched, but it certainly isn't a standard like it is in Britain. But the history of the song and the diverse tunes associated with it make it one of the most interesting Christmas carols.
Away from those shepherds watching their flocks by night, there are variations on Hark the herald angels sing, as well as the earliest surviving setting of Angels from the realms of glory and some obscure songs. But really, the primary reason to buy this album is to hear the contrasting variations on the title track."