Songs, Carols & Ballads for ChristmasPurchase The Cherry Tree at:
As fans of Anonymous 4's first 18 or so recordings you may remember this legendary group's first attempt at retirement from the studio--2003's phenomenal best-seller American Angels; or, was it 2005's The Origin of Fire, or the American Angels 2006 followup, Gloryland? However, it seems that, like a certain NFL quarterback who keeps returning to do what he knows and loves, to ever more acclaim, this very successful quartet has returned once more--and plans for future releases are in progress. In the music world, retirement can be a very good thing, especially when you've really nothing more to say, or when your skills and technique are failing. But this never was the case with Anonymous 4, and evidence of continued recording projects and concert performances is most welcome: the world absolutely needs music like this--of such purity and grace and beauty, supplanting the seedless hull of popular fashion with a sustainable harvest of spiritual sustenance and sheer musical pleasure. No one will ever deplore Anonymous 4 for its excess!
And although the mere idea of Christmas as a religious holiday celebration is fast disappearing from mainstream consciousness, these carols and songs preserve and continue to enliven a rich and meaningful tradition. And even if you're not a particularly religious person you can revel in these carols' possible origins in the songs of ancient and very secular feasts and festivals. Regardless, music that's been around for hundreds of years and still touches people needs no publicity machine, no slick marketing campaign, no media blitz to artificially certify its value. Like all of Anonymous 4's repertoire, this is music that celebrates its elemental form, and as such is more affecting and memorable than anything concocted by today's formulaic songwriters and highest-tech production studios. (Let's see how many people are performing Lady Gaga in 500 years.)
So, is there a review somewhere in here? Anonymous 4 fans already will be looking for the first opportunity to buy this new release--it combines the group's signature early chant and polyphony, this time mostly from 14th- and 15th-century English sources, with several selections representing English imports to the New World, including the title Cherry Tree Carol (Kentucky, 1917), The Shepherd's Star (from Southern Harmony, 1835), and William Billings' four-part fuging tune Bethlehem.
You can hardly believe the purity and clarity of the voices--and I know I've said this with every new Anonymous 4 disc release--which are recorded so intimately that if there were a flaw anywhere you'd notice. But you don't. No wonder these singers regularly are compared to angels and similarly otherworldly beings.
Highlights include any of the polyphonic pieces, but particularly the 15th-century English carols Veni redemptor gencium and Alma redemptoris mater, the latter reminiscent of the well-known carol There is no rose of such virtue (not included on this program). Fans of early American tunes will appreciate the folk hymn entries from the 19th century, rendered by these very accomplished singers in a style appropriate to time and place, but with restrained use of vocal slides and syllabic inflection that makes you want to come back rather than retreat, a performing philosophy similar to the group's tasteful and respectful interpretive style on American Angels and Gloryland. The sound, from an appropriately "otherworldly" venue, Lucasfilm's Skywalker Sound, and from the more earthly Sauder Concert Hall at Goshen College, Indiana, is as extraordinary as the singing, which--and I don't hesitate to say it again--is possessed of superhuman clarity and faultless intonation. Don't argue with this; just buy it.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
The nearly inexhaustible supply of medieval and Renaissance music for the Christmas season has happily provided Anonymous 4 with material for yet another holiday album. The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols & Ballads for Christmas draws on English and Irish sources as well as several from the New World: William Billings, Southern Harmony (1835), and a 15th century English ballad carol in a version collected in Kentucky in 1917. The American selections are especially fascinating, ranging from the exceptionally sweet folk hymns from Southern Harmony to the intricate counterpoint of Billings' late 18th century fuguing tune, Bethlehem, probably the most advanced music written by a North American up to that time. The singers invest the pieces with a distinctively American folk sound without resorting to twangy clichés, often in startling contrast with the straight, pure tone used in the English repertoire. That is hardly a surprise given the group's history and demonstrated skill in adapting to a broad variety of national and regional styles of vocal production. What is unchanging in their work is the life and spirit that the singers breathe into this music; there is nothing academic sounding about their scrupulous attention to the subtleties of the various vocal styles they bring to these wonderfully attractive pieces. The sound of Harmonia Mundi's hybrid SACD is characteristically clean and warm, with a natural, intimate ambience. The CD should interest any fans of the group, anyone looking for appealing new Christmas music, and anyone who loves top-notch a cappella vocal ensembles.
- Stephen Eddins, www.allmusic.com
are dozens of Christmas albums with the 15th-century carol “The Cherry
Tree” included in it but here is one with a real difference. A CD
released by the harmonia mundi label with Anonymous 4 brings that carol
and 16 other English and Irish songs, carols and ballads in an album
that presents the artists and the material with an extraordinary
freshness that creates an odd combination of quaint Christmas with
The artists are Anonymous 4, four ladies who for the past 25 years have been singing mostly medieval tunes with their distinctive vocal clarity. But here they turn away the ballads and songs of the 12th and 13th-century and move into the first “modern” carols used during the period to celebrate special heroes and events of the Christian church. It is here that the verse, chorus, and repeat musical form became central to folk music. This compilation of material, though, celebrates Christmas.
better to bring these Christmas songs to us than Anonymous 4.
Consisting of Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer and
Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (not all four are original members) this group
has traveled the country with their brilliant voices, matching
perfectly and providing polished performances. They have thrilled crowds
with their singing year after year. Previous albums for their record
label have sold close to two million copies with one CD, “American
Angels”, topping the classical chart for 76 weeks.
The program on the CD smoothly moves from old English ballads to some 18th to 20th-century American versions—to assure us that these antique carols came to us through the English tradition and remained very close to the original. The title song, “The Cherry Tree” is offered in this CD in a solo by Marsha Genesky using a 1917 Kentucky version.
The packaging of the CD is colorful, presumably to add to the Christmas spirit. It works well. Notes on the history of each carol by members of Anonymous 4 are clear and lively. Since many of the songs are sung in old English, the printed lyrics provided in both old and modern language is not only useful, but pretty much required to follow the folk stories.
data on the album is also intriguing. Recordings were made at
Skywalker Sound in Marin County, Ca. and Sauder Concert Hall at Goshen
College, Indiana. A list from academe are acknowledged and source
material is outlined in a full page. The recording is presented in Super
Audio CD format giving the singers additional roundness of
“The Cherry Tree” with Anonymous 4 is available both on line and in stores for about $17.00.
By Bill Peters - PetersMusicNews.com
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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
A Lammas Ladymass 11,000 Virgins Christmas Music from Medieval Hungary Miracles of Sant'Iago The Lily & The Lamb Love's Illusion
On Yoolis Night An English Ladymass Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light A Portrait of Anonymous 4
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