I should begin by saying that one of the members of the choral group Counterpoint is an old friend, so I may be biased, but this is the best new choral Christmas CD I’ve heard in years.
Counterpoint is a twelve-member choral group based in Vermont, directed by Robert De Cormier, who had a long and successful career with recording artists and groups like Harry Belafonte, Peter Paul and Mary, and the New York Choral Society. Since retiring to Vermont, he’s kept busy with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra chorus and this small group of top voices. This is their fourth CD, all of which reflect De Cormier’s eclectic taste, with wide-ranging influences from around the world.
The longest and most important selection is Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata in three short movements. Pinkham, who died last year, was one of America’s most prolific composers in the last century, though he’s best known for works focused on holidays and weddings, and his Christmas Cantata is probably the most popular. I first heard it performed by my high school choir in the 60s, and have loved it ever since, it’s one of my favorite pieces of Christmas music. Showing the influence of his teacher Aaron Copland, it’s full of warmth, mystery, occasional dissonance, and great joy. I have about 5 recordings of it, and my favorite has long been that of the Robert Shaw Chorale, but this new one has now taken the top spot. By using just 12 voices, Counterpoint delivers a sharply-focused performance that makes every word and note clear, which is usually not the case with larger groups. Sort of like a madrigal group performing a big choir piece, it really brings out all the great harmonies and latin text.
The rest of the CD is equally well-performed, and ranges from traditional Christmas carols to spirituals, and songs from Haiti and the West Indies, England and latin text tunes I’ve never heard before that sound quite old. There are also selections by the brass quintet alone that are very appealing.
If you like choral music at Christmas and are tired of the old standbys, this is a great new alternative. I’ve had mine on the CD player since I got it a few days ago, and am not tired of it yet! Here’s a link to the Pinkham Christmas Cantata’s third movement, Allegro, as an mp3, if you’d like to sample that:
And this is the CD: