The Deller Consort (Choir and Instrumental Ensemble) – From Heaven Above [RCA Victrola VICS-1376, 12″ LP, 1968.]
It’s time for some quiet again. There’s something comforting about listening to quiet music on a cold winter’s day. It helps warm the soul. Most of the music on today’s record is quiet, but not all of it. There are some bright bursts of sound that ring out as well. And there’s an unusual vocal style you’ll hear on the recording which may not be familiar to some: that of the countertenor, as sung here by Alfred Deller. As the cover says, From Heaven Above by the Deller Consort is an album of old English, German and French Christmas carols and Baroque Christmas music. Seven of the carols are performed using arrangements by 20th-century composer Carl Orff, but they all still have the feel of much earlier times. You can view the whole track listing by clicking on the image of the back cover. (The link to where you can listen to this entire album is found at the bottom of the post.)
I am an admirer of classical music, but by no means any kind of expert. Read the very informative liner notes by Lincoln Stoddard, which I have included here (below right,) for insight into these wonderful works. I have always been a fan of Early Music, and this album is a beautiful example of some very old styles of Christmas music. The almost haunting sound of the countertenor vocal style is something to behold. If you haven’t heard this unusual style of singing by an adult male with a high, clear voice before, you might be somewhat taken aback. I’ve always enjoyed hearing it in some of the works of Medieval and Renaissance composers. My classical record collection is small, but I’ve just noticed that a disproportionate amount of it consists of Early Music recordings by composers such as Josquin, Dufay, Desprez, Monteverdi, Purcell and Hildegard von Bingen or compilations featuring that type of music. Deller’s countertenor part is not heard until the fourth song on Side 1, “There Is No Rose.” The pieces before that feature a girls choir that performed on seven tracks on the album. Deller’s voice is also very prominent in “The Coventry Carol.” Here are some video examples of Alfred Deller singing that can be found at the NPR Music website. It’s fascinating to watch him sing. All the things I’ve read about him say he was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the countertenor part back into existence after it had faded from popularity.
I’m not sure where or when I bought this album, but I think I found it in California before I made my move to Oklahoma in the early 90s. I haven’t listened to it in a very long time and I’ve really enjoyed revisiting this wonderful music. I was somewhat familiar with the work of The Deller Consort, so when I saw that name on the album I knew it would be something good. Some of my favorite carols, such as “Good King Wenceslas” and “Ding Dong, Merrily on High,” are heard in nice versions on this record. The rendition of “Silent Night” that ends Side 1 is truly beautiful in its hushed simplicity.
And once again, some kind soul has taken the time to upload this whole album to YouTube where others can enjoy it. The audio was created directly from an LP and it’s a mostly very clean recording. The album has long been out of print and never appeared on CD as far as I can tell, so it’s nice that people have access to this beautiful recording.
I hope you enjoy this little slice of classical Christmas music history.