This refreshingly unsugary and well-constructed collection, a merciful antidote to the usual Victorian nostalgia and solid harmonies of more familiar carols, goes back to fourth century chant ("Renaissance" is used broadly) and includes settings by Dufay, Hildegard of Bingen, Praetorius and a few anons. Performed with verve by the young early-music group Virelai with "period pronunciation" according to the liner notes, but who on earth can say?
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, December 1997
. . . "Dies est laetitiae", performed by the group Virelai on their CD, Ther is no rose. There are five members of Virelai: the singer Catherine King and four distinguished early instrumentalists, who yo-yo between lutes of different types, viols of various sizes, and other things like flutes, recorders and drums. The disc is an eclectic jumble of festive nuggets, both vocal and instrumental. "Renaissance music for the Christmas season", it is subtitled. Though calling the eleventh century "renaissance" does strike me as pushing your luck a bit. No, this is early music "easy listening", and itís none the worse for that. A quick run through the centuries and a quick jaunt through Europe: France , Spain and the Low Countries are in there, as well as England. You get a bit of soothing plainsong mixed in with the odd lute solo; and some familiar carols with the Victorian varnish stripped away, just the thing for that upmarket Christmas drinks party. How much you like the performances largely depends on how you respond to the voice of Catherine King. Iím a big fan myself; I canít imagine Hildegard of Bingen ever heard her music more beautifully, or more intelligently sung. Catherine King does crystal clear purity without sounding in the least "goody goody"--no mean feat. She also does raunchy: [extract from "E la don don"] "E la don don", a dance carol in the mixture (as Iím sure you realised) of Catalan and Provençal, Catherine King there showing us a bit of her chest voice. Traditionalists may be alarmed by the use of authentic pronunciation in familiar English carols. In the space of a single line the vowel sounds can go from Clarrie Grundy to Jean Paul, and back again. We also have authentic spelling in the discís title: Ther (t-h-e-r) is no Rose comes on Virginís Veritas label. . . .
Ian Burnside, Record Review, BBC Radio 3, 20 December 1997
It is stretching "renaissance" to include a plainsong hymn, Hildegard of Bingen, the title carol and Willieís tambourin. Use of the word may make some people miss a highly recommended, low-volume contrast to the normal Christmas fare. I enjoyed Catherine King and Jacob Heringmanís Mudarra recording (see above); here they are joined by William Lyons, Susanna Pell and Sarah Cunningham on a variety of quiet instruments. A lack of variety is felt particularly because so many of the items would normally be performed with more voices; shouldnít these cut-down settings sell at half the price of the more lavish Taverner Christmas discs? But it is nice to hear "Swete was the song" in the version with embellished melody, lyra accompaniment and period pronunciation. This unhackneyed collection will certainly give a pleasing variety to your Christmas listening.
Clifford Bartlett, Early Music Review, December 1997
This is a serious and well thought-out anthology of Christmas music. Calling it "renaissance" is a bit misleading, though, as it includes some Sarum chant and the gorgeous "Ave generosa" by Hildegard of Bingen from the twelfth century; and Iím still trying to work out what is "Christmas" about Francesco da Milanoís elegant Fantasia.
But carping about the name is to quibble, and that would do down this excellent anthology which includes some traditional Provençal and Spanish Christmas folk tunes alongside some German arrangements by Praetorius of "Es ist ein Ros" and "In dulci jubilo" and Ravenscroftís gauntly evocative "Remember, O thou man".
Catherine Kingís pure voice and sympathetic feeling for the melodic curves of this music bring it all to life, as do the instrumentalists of the group Virelai, whose instrumentalism inscludes medieval harps, lutes and viols. Strongly recommended.
An excellently assembled anthology of Christmas music stretching over 500 years.
[four stars (out of five) for the performance, and top marks for sound quality]
Roderick Swanston, Classic CD, February 1998