A Minstrel’s Christmas — Timeless Performances by Alfred Deller

Alfred Deller was one of the pioneers of early music. He was a countertenor who helped define the sound of early music in the 1950s and 1960s. Deller was known for his use of vibrato and improvised ornamentation. 

Current authentic practices have moved away from the Deller sound. But he remains a major influence in the field.

Alto culls several recordings made between 1956 and 1965 to create this compilation. The sound, the repertoire, and the performances together create something that seems timeless. 

The sound has a softness that’s of its time. These analog recordings are devoid of extreme highs or lows. To me, the music sounds slightly faded, like an old, well-loved photograph. 

Deller’s performances also have an old-fashioned quality to them. There is some very fine singing here. But it’s not modern classical style, and it’s not modern early music style either. It’s something different, and now a little old-fashioned.

The music selections are also of their time. Today one expects an early music Christmas album to be just that. Authentic performances of music from a certain era. The playing should adhere to accepted performance practices of said style period.

Deller gives us a variety of carols old and new. There are some legitimate early music selections. But there are also some 19th and even 20th Century carols. The collection includes “Once in Royal David’s City,.” It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

But all are performed by Alfred Deller and the Deller Consort in an early music style. We hear lute and recorder, not modern instruments. In some cases, the harmonies have been simplified to conform to earlier styles. And Deller’s clear, bell-like voice removes any trace of modernism from these selections. 

It all combines to create an album of music that seems timeless. Like many of our favorite carols, these selections sound old. But it’s difficult to say how old, exactly. It’s as if these versions have always been around, waiting to be recorded. 

It’s not exactly early music, definitely not pop or light classical.  “A Minstrel’s Christmas” is an album that interprets these classics in its own way.

 A Minstrel’s Christmas
Alfred Deller, counter-tenor
The Deller Consort
Desmond Dupré, lute; Steven Taylor, recorder

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