CD 1: Festive Music From Europe & America (aka The Christmas Album)
CD 2: Nine Centuries of Seasonal Music
CD 3: The Carol Album I
CD 4: The Carol Album II
Taverner Consort Choir & Players/Andrew Parrott, Director
This album's rather generic title doesn't give the consumer a clear idea of the music contained herein.
The 4 CDs gathered in this box were originally released as EMI single discs between 1987-1995. They were bestsellers in the classical music world, especially "The Carol Albums I & II," which feature a nice overview of Christmas music through the ages. CD 1 in this set was originally issued on EMI as "The Christmas Album," which (I guess) would have been confusing sitting as part of a 4-CD set, thus the renaming of this CD per above. Andrew Parrott and his Taverner Consort established themselves as a reliable brand in the performance of early and Baroque music, and these recordings hold up very well a quarter of a century since their initial release. Each CD stands on its own as a well-thought-out program, even if their programs in specific bear obvious similarities to each other, mostly due to the musical periods from which the repertoire has been drawn.
The musical selections contained pretty much cover the bases of choral/vocal classical Christmas favorites, with most of the selections drawn from the Medieval to Baroque eras. Along with the many anonymously composed carols, you get music by Praetorious, Charpentier, Billings, Daquin, Tallis, Liszt, Gabrieli, Hildegard von Bingen, JS Bach, and even Schoenberg (!). A few of the carols/songs appear twice - "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night" - which is to be expected when one is compiling into a collection albums which were issued as stand-alone product on their initial release.
One of the features of these recordings is that Parrott has his singers perform in vocal styles that he imagines were used by the people who first sang this music in their respective eras. That might mean that an American hymn from the Revolutionary War period is sung with a rowdy and twangy vocal color, while a carol like "Silent Night" is sung in German as a simple duet with choir and guitar, reflecting its origins as a piece composed to deal with the fact (legend?) that the church organ had broken down and that the choir director had to come up with a quick fix to save Xmas Eve services. This approach works pretty well in general, as does Parrott's practice of mixing a cappella and instrumentally accompanied selections throughout the various programs.
The EMI versions of these CDs contained lots of readable information in their booklets. Those notes have been jettisoned in this 4-CD set (which has been rereleased on EMI's subsidary label, Virgin Veritas), so you'll need to search out the original EMI issues if extensive program notes are important to you (those CDs are still widely available). The enclosed CD booklet contains only a complete track listing and a 3-page essay that was written for this compilation's 2007 release - not the worst trade-off when one considers the budget-price of this 4CD set.
About that price - be advised that Virgin's MSRP has this 4-CD set priced as "4 CDs for the price of 1," which means that you should be paying anywhere from $13.99 - 16.99 TOPS for this set, with some Amazon Marketplace sellers offering the set in "new" condition for as little as $9 (an incredible bargain when the EMI versions of these CDs still retail as full-priced albums). Pay any more than that and you are being gouged.