Wolcum Yule

Wolcum Yule
(Harmonia Mundi Catalog # HMU 907325)

Celtic and British Songs and Carols

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Track List

Awake, and join the cheerful choir, Trad. English
Good people all, Trad. English
The seven rejoices of Mary, Trad. English
The Lamb, John Tavener
A Scots Lilt, Anon., 17th c.
Balulalow, Trad. Scottish
Balulalow, Richard Rodney Bennett
The holly and the ivy, Trad. English
The Reel of Tullochgorum, Trad. Scottish
I saw three ships, Trad. English
A Calendar of Kings, Peter Maxwell Davies (first recording)
Air: Lá fuar geimhreadh (On a cold winter’s day), Trad. Irish
An teicheadh go hÉigipt (Flight into Egypt), Trad. Irish
A god, and yet a man?, Geoffrey Burgon (first recording)
Grene growith the holy, Henry VIII
Wel, dyma'r borau gorau (Behold, here is the best morning), Trad. Welsh
The Cherry Tree Carol, Trad. English
Can wassel (Wassail Song), Trad. Cornish
A New Year Carol, Benjamin Britten
Listen to Samples

Reviews of Wolcum Yule

This offbeat disc of seasonal songs and carols by the Anonymous 4 will delight their fans and please everyone else. The 19 selections include traditional folk melodies and texts, some of which date back to the Middle Ages, interspersed with fitting selections by contemporary composers including John Taverner, Benjamin Britten, and Peter Maxwell Davies, whose ethereal a cappella A Calender of Kings gets its first recording. Andrew Lawrence-King, playing Irish harp, Baroque harp, and psaltery with his accustomed finesse, is a  major reason for the disc's success, accompanying most of the vocals and contributing three lovely solos. The disc is crammed with highlight tracks, like the lilting Cornish Wassail song and the Irish Good people all, and haunting numbers like "Flight into Egypt," sung in  Gaelic, and "Behold, here is the best morning," sung in Welsh. Excellent sonics and Harmonia Mundi's typically fine production values also help make this a Christmas disc that will give joy in July.
 --Dan Davis, Amazon.com

Rating =  Performance 10/ Sound 10
It's been 10 years--1993's On Yoolis Night--since we heard this ensemble sing real Christmas carols--in English, even. Fans of this extraordinary quartet will be pleasantly surprised with this choice of repertoire--and with the beautiful accompaniments by Andrew Lawrence-King and his harps. The majority of the selections are traditional English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and even Cornish songs, but we're also treated to world-premiere recordings of pieces by Peter Maxwell Davies (A Calendar of Kings) and Geoffrey Burgon (A god, and yet a man?). Then there's a luminous all-female rendition of John Tavener's justly popular The Lamb (his first success, a sincere and simple work unencumbered by later self-conscious religious agendas) and the concluding A New Year Carol, where Benjamin Britten's original arpeggiated piano accompaniment lends itself perfectly to this setting where the unison voices are supported by Lawrence-King's Baroque harp.

Anonymous 4's Johanna Maria Rose shows that she knows a thing or two about arranging for the voices she's been singing with for the past couple of decades, contributing her own very pleasing takes on the carols The holly and the ivy, Grene growith the holy, and I saw three ships. Highlights are many, but include Peter Maxwell Davies' uniquely affecting A Calendar of Kings, basically a fanciful harmonic journey through the wondrous imagery of George Mackay Brown's poem--a mystical trip not through Eastern landscapes but rather through the poet's own Orkney Islands--that's full of wild and wonderful colors and startling effects that show off Anonymous 4's rarely heard ontemporary-music chops. Richard Rodney Bennett's setting of Balulalow is a gem, as are Marsha Genensky's solo interpretation of Good people all, accompanied by Lawrence-King's vibrant, bell-like Irish harp, and the irresistibly "catchy" Can wassel (Wassail Song). 

The disc is enhanced by a well-planned programming order that ensures transitions from track to track are smooth and sensitive to keys and to the listener's need both for tonal continuity and musical variety. For some reason, the sound on the latter part of the disc is more resonant and present than on the opening tracks--a situation that takes about two seconds to adjust to. It need not be said that Anonymous 4 fans will want this without delay. And if it's possible that there are listeners new to this group, here's an easy way to get to know its matchless sound and enduring, engaging personality.
--David Vernier, classicstoday.com

"If it's the Christmas spirit you're after, try the new selection of  Celtic and British songs and carols "Wolcum Yule," by the vocal quartet Anonymous 4, with harpist Andrew Lawrence-King...alluring." 
- Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Magazine, November 9, 2003 

"The Davies song, 'A Calendar of Kings,' sets a George Mackay Brown poem concerning the journey of the three Magi from the East to the scene of Christ's nativity; it is spare in affect, yet vividly devotional, and will be remembered long after its six minutes are up. Britten's A New Year Carol, which concludes the recital, is so consolingly beautiful that you will be willing (just) to let the CD finish. Whether you prefer your joy in abstract or rollicking settings, there is much for you to enjoy.. Unaccompanied, and with Lawrence-King... the four women of Anonymous 4 have never sounded as lovely. Working at Skywalker Sound, producer Robina Young and engineer Brad Michel have created an uncannily natural space in which the overtones float magically away as if they were sounding in response to the season."
- Laurence Vittes, Audiophile Audition - November 2003

Anyonymous 4, mediæval music’s most successful vocal ensemble, presenta program that transcends their usual repertoire, ranging from traditional carols from the British Isles like "Good People All" and"I Saw Three Ships" to new pieces like Geoffrey Burgon’s "A God, and Yet a Man?" and Peter Maxwell Davies’s "A Calendar of Kings," both ofwhich get their first recordings here. The four women sing everything with their now familiar pure tone and supple, articulate phrasing, making even the most familiar carols like "The Holly and the Ivy" unexpectedly moving and uplifting. And they devote as much care and musical craftsmanship to the simplest pieces as they do to John Tavener’s expressive and dissonant "The Lamb." Andrew Lawrence-King supplies discreet accompaniment, as well as a few solos, on a variety of harps. Anonymous 4 are said to be winding down their activities; if so, Wolcum Yule is a fitting swan song as well as a great soundtrack to the season.


The top pick of this holiday season is this ground-breaking new CD from Anonymous 4, that celestial quartet of women's voices whogenerally focus on a cappella music of the Middle Ages. This new disc of Celtic and British songs and carols of several eras, with exquisite harp from Andrew Lawrence-King, charts new and highly attractive territory for Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner and Johanna Maria Rose.

Among the carols: "Good People All" (often called the Wexford Carol), "I Saw Three Ships," "Cherry Tree Carol" and "The Holly and the Ivy," along with lesser-known traditional Irish, Scottish, Cornish, Welsh and English seasonal songs. More surprisingly, there are carols and other works of contemporary composers Benjamin Britten, Richard Rodney Bennett, Peter Maxwell Davies and John Tavener. These newer carols, all clearly in the spirit of their forebears, show that this musical tradition is constantly renewing itself. All the works, old and new, are sung in the seamless, effortless blend that these four singers seem to achieve as easily as breathing.

- Melinda Bargreen, Seattle Times

 By the time doors of St. Mark's Church opened Friday evening, the line of fans eager to hear the farewell concert by Anonymous 4 stretched more than half a block and filled Locust Street with the high murmur of anticipation that in an earlier time might have prefaced a Horowitz concert. For 17 years, these four - Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner and Johanna Maria Rose - have moved knowingly between music from medieval sources to the tangiest contemporary pieces, applying their scholarship, clear, unvibrated voices, and uncanny intonation to the task of reimagining the fascination of ensemble singing. Yet just at the apogee of their long flight, they are ending it all after this season to work on individual projects.

Their program, with harpist Andrew Lawrence-King, was about Christmas and winter rituals. The songs, in Welsh, Celtic and English old and new, conveyed wonder and jubilation at the Christmas story. Contemporary carols, by Peter Maxwell Davies, Richard Rodney Bennett, John Taverner and Benjamin Britten, displayed some of the wonder of writing for such dazzling singing musicians. Davies' "A Calendar of Kings," composed for this group, challenged them with some minor seconds that first underlined their exacting vocal placement, then led them through elaborate counterpoint and shifting tempos to complete an aural history of the travels of the Magi. Juxtaposing the old and the new, the ensemble pointed to the orderly march of styles and sometimes similarity of sound that have characterized song through the ages. A song by Henry 8th may sound as innovative as Taverner's "The Lamb." And Britten's "A New Year Carol" spoke as simply as songs from 300 years earlier. None of the singing sounded self-praising; all of it was inventive but respectful. The glassy intervals, the finely placed vocal lines, and the rhythmic spring combined to explain why their program had drawn such a crowd. Within the subtly graded dynamic levels in which they work, these singers touched deep emotional states and vivid musical colors. Lawrence-King played three distinctive harps, each providing a different color to the singing. He had some solo moments, too. In "The Reel of Tullochgorum" and "On a Cold Winter's Day," an Irish air, he revealed expressive ranges and colors far beyond what seem possible in plucked strings in a single key. The program was so carefully chosen and presented, it seemed an encore might break the intensity of the experience. But after the audience stood to cheer, they performed "Stille Nacht." In this familiar piece, they scrubbed away a couple of hundred years of sentimentality to remind us that it is a lilting 6/8 tune full of Austrian folksong. With that, the five musicians left. It was a dignified and oh-so-musical farewell.

- Daniel Webster, The Philidelphia Inquirer (Concert Review of Wolcum Yuile)

Wolcum Yule Program Notes

Celtic and British Songs and Carols

Many of the symbols and practices of the Celtic midwinter celebration known as Yule (probably several thousand years older than the festival of Christmas) have come down to us in a curious amalgamation of mythologies, pagan and Christian. Yule marks the time of the winter solstice, around 21 December - the longest and darkest night of the year, when the coming of spring seems a faint hope. To fortify that hope, the ancient Celts, who dwelt throughout Britain, held a celebration of lights, to give power to the returning sun. They brought evergreens into their homes to symbolize life at the time when most of nature seemed dead and dark, and they gave and received gifts to represent wisdom gained from looking inward during the long winter nights. These symbols, and many other elements of ancient pagan ceremonies, were absorbed into the early Christian festivals, blending into a multi-layered expression of the universal cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

The traditional music associated with the midwinter festival is also interwoven with threads of pre-Christian ritual and folk-customs. The concerns of an ancient people dependent upon the whims of nature for food and shelter are expressed not only in imagery of the natural world, but even in the form of the songs themselves. The word “carol” (from Old French “carole”) originally meant a dance performed in a circle, the dancers also singing a verse with a recurring refrain. This was probably derived from ancient ritual dances with call-and-response chanting, used at magical ceremonies throughout the cycle of the year. Even by the Middle Ages, the carol was not limited to the winter season; only much later did the term take on its present meaning of a song for the Christmas season.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, collectors began to rescue from obscurity many folk tunes, songs and carols. In Edinburgh, poet Allan Ramsay (1686–1758) collected and published Scottish tunes, and Edward Bunting (1773–1843), a classically-trained musician in Belfast, produced three volumes of Irish airs. Crucial figures in the folk song revival were Davies Gilbert (1767–1839) and William Sandys (1792–1874), both gentleman scholars from Cornwall, an area of Britain that had remained comparatively isolated until the shift from an agricultural society to an industrial one, and whose folk customs and songs remained more intact than in other areas of the country. Although the carols published by Gilbert and Sandys were relatively few in number, these collections were seminal because they were the first to include both tunes and words. Some of our best-loved Christmas carols were preserved through their efforts, and their momentum was carried forward by the early twentieth-century collectors of folk song, Cecil Sharp (1859–1924) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), as well as later collectors working throughout the British Isles.

For this program, we have interwoven traditional Christmas songs with contemporary carols (ranging from the early twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty-first: a newly commissioned work by Peter Maxwell Davies), showing that the need never dies to express the most basic human fears and joys, and to keep that expression always fresh with the turning of each year.
        –Johanna Maria Rose

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Discography:   Three Decades of Anonymous 4 1865 Marie et Marion love fail The Drop That Contained the Sea Secret Voices
The Cherry Tree Four Centuries of Chant Gloryland Noel The Origin of Fire American Angels
Wolcum Yule Darkness into Light la bele marie The Second Circle 1000: A Mass for the End of Time Legends of St. Nicholas
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On Yoolis Night An English Ladymass Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light A Portrait of Anonymous 4
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