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GRAMOPHONE (12/2015)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

‘I am not striving to recreate a complete and authentic 17th-century Vespers service…Rather, my primary goal was to create a vivid and compelling concert experience.’ In prioritising drama over strict historical accuracy, Jeannette Sorrell has made a wise decision. The result is a Christmas disc charged with all Apollo’s Fire’s signature energy that doesn’t get too bogged down in liturgical form-filling. Which is fortunate, because Sorrell and her musicians are selling this repertoire in a crowded market-place. Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort (Archiv, 12/94) lead a field also busy with contributions from Bremer Barock, Leipzig’s Thomanerchor and an excellent disc from the Toronto Consort and Chamber Choir (Marquis). All have already celebrated Christmas with the music of Michael Praetorius.


The album does take a couple of tracks to warm up. While a Processional makes structural sense, unison chanting (at a pace that verges on the ponderous) doesn’t thrill, and it’s only really with the hymn-setting Wachet auf! that things really get going, with virtuoso cornetto flourishes setting the more demure vocal contributions alight. It’s a spark that grows into a blaze as the programme progresses: two soprano soloists battle with ferocious elegance in the Gloria, a syncopated chorus leads us in a wild dance of rejoicing in Puer natus in Bethlehem, while Sorrell’s instrumentalists shine in the orchestral dances from Terpsichore – a foil to the perfectly judged simplicity of Lo, how a rose e’er blooming. What Apollo’s Fire do so uniquely well here is capture the homespun spirit of music intended to unite a congregation. Apollo’s Singers are joined by The Oberlin Choristers and The Children’s Choirs of St Paul’s Church (Cleveland, Ohio), each adding character to a disc that leads with its personality – generous, all-embracing and never too precious about detail.

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