Carol concerts come and go, but these two offered something a little out of the ordinary, with more than a nod to past Christmases unsullied by commercialism.
In a lunchtime event, with low sun brilliantly illuminating the mediaeval stained glass, the Waits unpacked their splendid panoply of old instruments. These included a 16th-century Flemish rumble-pot (friction drum) with seasonal associations. Deborah Catterall supplied vivid soprano words (and occasional recorder).
The group roamed all over Europe. A ‘joyfull noyse’ came from top-calibre sackbuts (Anna Marshall and William Marshall) teamed with fluent shawms in Germany and Spain. Gentler sounds issued from curtals, violins, recorders (including Tim Bayley’s great bass), harps and guitars.
A trio of bagpipes gave the shepherds authenticity, in France and the Netherlands. England was not forgotten, with Henry VIII and a jolly wassail. Truly the Waits are among York’s greatest treasures.
Bad luck – nobody’s fault – afflicted the Ebors’ first half, an authentic female-voices account of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. A broken harp-string caused a hiatus that deflated the cumulative impact and unnerved one or two soloists.
Harpist Oliver Wass soldiered on bravely. But there was enough rhythmic verve and stunning pianissimo to show what might have been. Perhaps a total restart was the answer.
Joined by the male voices, Paul Gameson’s doughty corps restored order after the break, alternating Michael Praetorius and several moderns with the plainsong Advent antiphons.
There was especially beautiful control in Howells’s A Spotless Rose – immaculately tuned – and in Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. Praetorius’s In Dulci Jubilo made an elation-packed finale. Cheers all round.