Yet another fine early music ensemble pops up for the holiday season, courtesy of Analekta. Masques has assembled a charming program of Christmas music from the Baroque period, which of course basically sounds like any other kind of Baroque music, but it's pleasing and spunky nevertheless. The highlights are the two sets of instrumental Noëls by Charpentier and Delalande, which present a festive garland of Christmas tunes in colorful instrumental garb, recorders well to the fore. They are delightful. Schiassi's Concerto for Strings ends with one of those wonderful pastoral numbers, thus establishing its seasonal credentials in the Corellian tradition.
The vocal pieces are a bit of a mixed bag. I'm not sure whatRead more the two traditional numbers--one Irish, the other French--are doing here, but they are very pretty. Soprano Catherine Webster has one of those fresh, pure, "authentic-instrument" voices that's just perfect for this music, although in the Scarlatti Christmas cantata her quick vibrato is difficult to distinguish from her somewhat rudimentary trill. Still, she's a pleasure to listen to, particularly when she and the ensemble are so naturally recorded in a warmly resonant room. The concluding villancico by Antonio de Salazar closes the program with a colorful flourish. This will definitely put you in the holiday mood, as any good Christmas collection should. [11/22/2005]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less