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Sir Christèmas

For those who enjoy Renaissance Festivals or just like early music of all stripes, Broceliande is a real find. Based in the San Francisco Bay area, Brocelïande plays Celtic, medieval and renaissance music; their marvelous sound here mixes sophisticated vocal harmonies with the lyrical instrumentation of the Celtic harp, mandolin, cello, guitar, recorders, oboe, whistles, and melodeon.

Broceliande consists of only four players: Margaret Davis--voice, Celtic harp, flute, recorders; Karl Franzen--guitar, voice, octave mandolin, melodeon, whistles; Kristoph Klover--voice, guitar, octave mandolin, oboe, English horn; and Kris Yenney--cello, voice. Given how densely layered the instrumentation and vocalizations are, one might guess that many more members must be participating. No, this foursome is able to do it all, and do it with remarkable professionalism.

"Sir Christemas: Songs of the Season" has 16 tracks on this generous CD (nearly an hour of music). These are almost entirely "carols" in the truest sense--songs originally associated with dancing; four are instrumentals. Of diverse origins, these numbers cover over 500 years of Western history. The mood is upbeat, invigorating, toe-tapping fun! Everything on "Sir Christemas" works well. Favorites include the rugged "Boar's Head Carol" and the haunting magic of the "Entre le Boeuf/Noël Nouvelet" medley. "Shoot the Wren" is a curiously compelling nursery rhyme set to traditional Irish music; apparently, English Yuletide customs included hunting and capturing a wren, a good luck symbol. Among the instrumental pieces, the "Abbots Bromley Horn Dance" is especially fine with its excellent cello and oboe work. Finally, the lovely medieval Spanish piece "Yo Me Soy La Modenica" is a special treat with exceptional a cappella interludes.

Lets lift a cup o' wassail and toast Broceliande and their impressive "Sir Christemas"! It's a fine, fine holiday choice for the ages.

--Carol Swanson, ChristmasReviews.com

 

... Broceliande has become part of our morning ritual, -- we started using the spring album to wake our son up on school mornings, and finally shifted over to the Christmas album to be more seasonally appropriate. His favorites so far on the Christemas album are the "Gloucestershire Wassail" and "Shoot the Wren" for some reason...

---E. K., Redwood City, CA

 

Sir Christèmas is, of course, a Christmas album, but by my count half of the tunes presented are secular. On top of that many of the overtly religious songs are presented in deliciously ancient sounding Medieval English, French, or Spanish, so this is a right fine collection of Yule music, one I am certain I will return to year after year.

My favorites include the "Gloucestershire Wassail" at Track 1. The wassail bowl was a great vat of festive punch carried from house to house by English carolers (recipe thoughtfully provided in the liner notes). This opening song gives each of the singers at least a verse to perform and plenty of boisterous opportunity to harmonize on the choruses. Other Yule staples, "The Boar's Head Carol" and "The Holly and the Ivy," are well represented here too. I find Track 11, "Shoot the Wren" very intriguing, personally. It is a variation on a favorite old folk song, "Cutty Wren," I've never run across before. Both the lyrics and the melody are subtly different from the usual, sounding almost jazzy in spots. A minor quibble, owing to the repetitive nature of the lyrics, I think I would have taken this one a wee bit faster in tempo myself.

To conclude this consideration, I especially appreciated Margaret's lead vocal work on the two old French tracks, "Un Flambeau, Jeanette Isabelle" and "Entre le Boeuf/Noël Nouvelet."  Her singing is clear and evocative, bringing the ancient words truly alive. I have never heard these pieces, particularly the "Noël," done better. Trimming a tree, or watching the Yule log spark and burn through the night, you wonít find more agreeable music than Brocelïande to accompany your mid-winter sabbat.

The recordings of Brocelïande and related groups, such as the Celtic rock ensemble, Avalon Rising, are available direct from the band at www.broceliande.org. Service is excellent, and payment is via PayPal.

Astute readers will note I have left myself three more Brocelïande CDs to talk about later, thus ensuring the continuation of this column into the foreseeable future.  See you again at Imbolc. Bright blessings.

--Bob Sunde, CUUPS

 

Many thanks for Sir Christèmas CD! Now is February but we play it still ... Brocelïande is great musical group ... with own special "handwriting" or "trademark" sound ... Not bigger disaster than when group have changeable sound with another... Sometime we can take "cover" version of one single song, but group with "sound" remembered other band is redundant -- brings some joy only for group member playing together ... Brocelïande with own face of musical deal is group what can proudly stand between world famous groups ... We changed on our record player music of Pentangle, Steeleye Span and all of Robin Williamson's formations with Brocelïande and all that music seems to us equal. With joy of creation, merry singing and giving to song what it want ... My English not so good for telling what I wish, but I believe that you understand what I mean ...

Few songs from album we knows in another different verses - "Gaudete" by your arrangemnt is true connection between Steeleye's British version and Czech-German Gothic pattern ... Great! Most what I love on Brocelïande sound is "natural" joy - I think that scholarly precise singing and playing of Medieval music is little far from original authentic interpretation ... Maybe monks done it freeze and academic, but not folks ... Your album is a concentrate of Christmas how we feel this season ... Church - Street - Family/home ... All that on album is, fully and merry ...

And other look ... Graphic art and informative notices about songs and instruments is perfectly like everytime in Flowinglass' sleeves and jackets ...

I think that you live with one feet in a Medieval world -- ME TOO! and thanks to this "position" you can do greatest versions of Middle-earth's tunes ... Middle-earth's Third Age I feel like European's 1000 - 1500 Age ... and I prefer music what use musical themes from this age - plus fantasy, ideas, influences ... Is hard for me to say which song from CD I like most of all ... it changed probably with changes of "mood" - but No. 8 is very very high ...

--Václav Satava, Czech Republic


Sixteen entertaining tunes in medieval and Renaissance styles range from "Gloucestershire Wassail" to "Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle" (with French and English lyrics), the Latin "Gaudete," an lrish instrumental, and 12 more with similar variety -- including one song in Medieval English. This excellent quartet not only plays Celtic harp, flute, guitar, period instruments, oboe, English horn, and cello, it also shines on vocals, with qualities that suit the pub/street-singing feel of certain cuts. Engaging Old World atmospheres.

--NAPRA ReView, Nov/Dec 2002

 

In the debut installment in a proposed four-CD set celebrating seasonal folk songs,16 time-honored tracks capture wintertime's joviality and celebratory charm. Performed by Brocelïande, a skilled quartet renowned for their interpretations of classic Celtic and Renaissance compositions, ditties like "Gaudete" and "Edi Beo Thu" beautifully convey a festive, convivial atmosphere. Blending mandolins, recorders and Irish whistles with honeyed voices, this extraordinary ensemble evokes a truly harmonious winter wonderland.

--Jeff Berkwits, SciFi Magazine

 

Brocelïande is a very capable four-piece ensemble in the early-music/Baroque/Celtish mold. On this Christmas recording, the players cover a very broad range of music from Western Europe, everything from an interesting hymn in Middle English to French carols, English wassails, Bach tunes, and even familiar Christmas songs. Margaret Davis has a high, clear voice and considerable talent on the harp. A pleasant blend of guitars, cello, oboe, flute, and so forth combine with some fine harmony singing to make this an enjoyable CD to put on while trimming trees, baking cookies, and all those other midwinter tasks. The CD booklet also includes a recipe for wassail punch.

--Dirty Linen, Dec 02/Jan 03

 

Seasonal and Christmas music from several western European traditions, arranged for guitars, harp, winds, and cello, are offered by this California quartet. Some Yuletide chestnuts, some unusual songs (for example, the beautiful "Carol of the Birds") and a few splendid instrumental pieces make this a nice holiday collection.

--Sing Out! Winter 2003

 

The gifted folk quartet, Brocelïande, offers the first in a series of seasonal recordings with their recent release of Sir Christèmas, songs for the winter holidays. The multi-talented members play a variety of instruments including Celtic harp (played by Margaret Davis), cello, guitar, octave mandolin, flute, recorders, drums and more.

The CD opens with a merry version of the "Gloucestershire Wassail" (a recipe for Wassail punch is included in the liner notes!) This is a great sing-a-long piece with many verses that I had never heard before. Next comes the charming French carol "Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle," featuring Margaret's harp playing and pretty soprano voice along with Kristoph Klover's equally pleasing tenor. This piece is nicely accented by Kris Yenney on cello. The well-known medieval carol "Gaudete" is appropriately sung a cappella by the entire group with occasional instrumental interludes.

The mood shifts with a nice folky version of an untitled O'Carolan tune. The harp does not take the melody here; rather the melodeon (a small reed instrument) lends a contemporary Irish flavor to the arrangement by taking the lead.

Brocelïande proves their versatility with two Gavottes by Bach featuring Kris again on cello, Margaret on flute, Kristoph on English horn and fourth band member, Karl Franzen, uniquely on melodeon and guitar. These Gavottes are an unusual choice for a Christmas recording, but they fit in very beautifully with their elegant and stately melodies.

Perhaps my favorite track follows: "Entre le Boeuf/Noël Nouvelet," two pieces from the early Renaissance. Margaret's voice really shines here, backed by harmonies from the rest of the ensemble. The next several tracks are all from medieval and Renaissance England, most notably with a John Dowland instrumental "Mrs. White's Nothing/Mrs. White's Thing" and "Edi Beo Thu." The latter (a medieval carol) has a pretty harp intro by Margaret and an all-over lovely arrangement with lush vocals, plaintive oboe and the sonorous strains of the cello. The "Abbots Bromley Horn Dance" is a perfect choice for this recording which focuses much on early English music and highlights some of the archaic traditions of the winter season.

"Yo Me Soy La Modenica" is a medieval cantiga in praise of the Virgin Mary delightfully combined with a Renaissance Sephardic melody. The title track, "Sir Christèmas," is a little-known 15th-century English carol performed a cappella by the group in madrigal form. The CD finishes up with "Away in the Manager," the most recognizable carol in the collection. I particularly like the group's arrangement of vocal harmonies and instrumental interludes, however I find this carol to be a little cloying in general. Overall, though, Sir Christèmas is a delightful holiday CD with many layers of fine playing and fresh arrangements. As satisfying a good glass of festive Christmas punch!

--Shawna Spiteri, HarpBeat of the Bay


If you're so sick of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that you'd like to roast him and put him on the table with an apple in his mouth, never fear! Brocelïande to the rescue!

Drawing from a diversity of European and American cultures, Sir Christèmas: Songs of the Season presents songs in English, French, German, and Spanish spanning periods from the 13th to 20th centuries. The words hark to Christmas, Yule, Winter Solstice, and other Festivals of Light integral to this time of year. Detailed liner notes give lyrics for the vocal pieces, historical context and attributions for all songs, and other fascinating background information.

My favorite tracks include the rousing "Gloucestershire Wassail," "The Boar's Head Carol" with blended Pagan/Christian symbolism, an exquisitely soulful rendition of "The Holly and the Ivy," and "Edi Beo Thu" which is a sprightly homage to the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven. Actually, I loved them all.

Brocelïande consists of Margaret Davis (vocals, flute, Celtic harp, recorders), Karl Franzen (guitar, octave mandolin, vocals, whistle, harmonica, melodeon, hand-drum), Kristoph Klover (vocals, 12-string and 6-string guitars, octave mandolin, oboe), and Kris Yenney (cello, viol, percussion, vocals). Visit their gorgeous website at: www.broceliande.org.

If you're planning to throw a mixed party and you want entertainment that won't offend your Pagan guests or your Christian guests, this is the album to play. Put it on your shopping list, too; Sir Christèmas: Songs of the Season is a perfect gift for fans of traditional music. This is far and again the best winter holiday release I've heard since MotherTongue released This Winter's Night. Best of all, this is but the first of four albums. Brocelïande plans to release three more, covering seasonal music throughout the year. Most highly recommended.

--Elizabeth Barrette, PanGaia


Sir Christèmas is a collection of mostly carols, ranging from the 13th to mid-20th centuries. As Brocelïande explains in their CD booklet, a "carol" is a type of song associated with dancing. Well, if your feet aren't infected by this festive music, at least your ears will get a treat.

The carols on this album are all traditional tunes ranging from easily recognizable, such as "Away in a Manger" and "The Holly and the Ivy," to the vaguely familiar, such as "Gloucestershire Wassail" and "Gaudete," to the unique, such as "The Boar's Head Carol." (Hey, it may be a familiar tune at Queen's College, but this is a new one for me). Their rendition of "Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle," a 17th-century French carol, is remarkable, especially the tenor recorder. The title song, "Sir Christèmas," is a very impressive a cappella version of a 15th-century English song. The men provide a very good background harmony for the female voices to shine.

In Sir Christèmas, Brocelïande displays an obvious passion for their craft. It's not merely the selection of songs that strengthens this album, it's Brocelïande's entire approach. Their period music has totality of authenticity, from their vocal styles to their instrumental performance. Each song seems to be a window into that time period, as if the listener has picked up a performance from a late-night French Christmas party or an English dining hall. If you're wanting authentic Christmas carols, Sir Christèmas is a delightful choice.

---C. Nathan Coyle, Rambles Cultural Magazine
 

 

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Contact Margaret: margaret@flowinglass.com (510) 569-0437