'The playing is expert and musical, varying from tear-inducing to energetic'
'Of the group’s nearly 20 albums, this has quickly become one of my favorites.'
'sparkles with brassy professionalism and ingenuity'
'Well-planned, imaginative and faultlessly executed...' The Independent
A selection of music to celebrate the Christmas season. The Nativity story illustrated by masterpieces from the early baroque and a series of stocking-fillers for the 12 days of Christmas!
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Music for The Twelve Days of Christmas and The Nativity
Including stocking fillers from Victoria, Kempis, Obrecht, Lasso, Ravenscroft, Morley, Farnaby, Praetorius, Schein and others.
Put some oompah into your festive listening with this enjoyable disc of early music from His Majesty's Sackbuts and Cornets. Once you remember that the cornet is the forerunner of the trumpet and the sakbut is an early trombone, everything falls into place. As does the group's playing. Joined by the clean toned soprano Faye Newton, HMSC frolic through seasonal pieces ranging from the 12th century to the 17th. ***
Tully Potter, Daily Mail, 19 December 2008
Well-planned, imaginative and faultlessly executed, this is everything you don't expect from a Christmas album. It presents the Nativity story in episodic form, each stage of the drama represented by carefully chosen medieval pieces, the popular songs of their era, accompanied on period instruments such as sackbutt, virginal, harpsichord, cornett and pipe-organ. This is followed by a representation of the Twelve Days of Christmas, each tune selected for thematic aptness: seven swans a-swimming is depicted by Orlando Gibbons's madrigal "The Silver Swan" and Giacomo Spiardo's "Dance of the Swans"; while five gold rings become the five-part canon of Thomas Ravenscroft's "Two Rounds in Five Parts". Works are drawn from the likes of John Dowland, Giles Farnaby and Michael Praetorius, whose gorgeous carol "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming", for soprano, organ and brass, is a highlight.
4 stars (out of 5)
Review by Andy Gill in The Independent, Arts & Books Special Edition, 19 December 2008
"...This is a fine, and fun, addition to the early brass recording canon. The playing is expert and musical, varying from tear-inducing to energetic, and Faye Newton has a nice, clear, early-music type of voice which both blends with the brass, yet rises above them when needed. Of the group’s nearly 20 albums, this has quickly become one of my favorites."
--Paul Schmi, Historic Brass Society
Armed with a marvelous moniker, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts (HMS&C) is a remarkable early music ensemble, and their Music for The Twelve Days of Christmas and The Nativity--or just The Twelve Days of Christmas, for short--is remarkably grand. As a holiday music reviewer, my tour of seasonal offerings often uncovers some of the coolest and most creative gems--talents I would likely not have otherwise discovered. These talented Brits definitely qualify as gems, and their seasonal release sparkles with brassy professionalism and ingenuity.
If you are anything like me, your first reaction to this album was likely "What on earth is a sagbutt (also known as a sackbutt)?" The term sounds vaguely naughty, yet familiar; the sagbutt is in fact the forerunner of the modern trombone. Not surprisingly, the HMS&C ensemble prominently features sagbutts (in addition to cornetts, bagpipes, organ, recorder, percussion, virginals/harpsichord, and an outstanding soprano here).
I must confess--between the word "sagbutts" and the humorous cover photo of the HMS&C's faces superimposed over the figures in a nativity scene, I initially thought that the album might be going just for laughs, but this is no novelty offering. HMS&C is the real deal, a very well-respected early music brass ensemble providing serious musicianship through and through, while maintaining terrific balance and a whimsical perspective. The album first explores "The Nativity" (tracks 1-10), then takes its listeners on an inspired journey through "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (tracks 11-23).
The album nicely blends vocals and instrumentals. Soprano Faye Newton has a lovely, spot-on, crystalline tone; her delicate voice rises effortlessly over the instrumentation with clarity and warmth. Her Es is ein Ros entsprungen and Coventry Carol are especially memorable. My primary curiosity here was the album's treatment of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," carefully selecting period pieces about each featured "day" of the carol. Thus, the initial track is Hawking for the Partridge, matching what the "true love" delivers on the first day of Christmas. Of course, this ultimately means that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" pieces are not strictly about Christmas at all; rather, they feature French hens or five gold rings, etc. As a result, The Twelve Days of Christmas resonates on two levels: as a beautifully-executed holiday offering of ancient carols, and as a satisfying exploration of exquisite early music pieces that could entertain listeners throughout the year.
For fans of early music, this album is a no-brainer. HMS&C is an intensely talented and stylish crew; their holiday release is stimulating and stirring. Well done, HMS&C!
(Reviewed in 2008)