Reviewed on Thu 25 Dec, 2014
Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the admirable Chamber Choir Ireland, Paul Hillier has devised an absorbing hour-long sequence of festive fare, with repertoire ranging far and wide both geographically and chronologically. Binding the whole programme are the seven ancient plainchant 'O Antiphons' traditionally sung during the week before Christmas, while Hillier himself supplies a generous clutch of characteristically inventive and gratefully idiomatic arrangements of some tried-and-trusted favourites. The disc's centrepiece comprises the sparky and frequently haunting Christmas motet 'Merk auf, mein Herz', only discovered as recently as 1989 and thought to be the work of Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) – though, it should be noted, Hillier himself is somewhat wary of this attribution! Whatever, it's a delightful discovery. Other stand-outs include Henry Cowell's ravishing Sweet was the song the Virgin sung, and two singularly beautiful Gaelic carols by Eamonn Ó Gallchobhair and Fiontán Ó Cearbhaill. Throughout, both performances and production-values are, quite simply, beyond reproach, making this an unalloyed Christmas treat.