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CD Review

New Revels Christmas CD

THE ROAD TO COMPOSTELA: A Galician Christmas Revels

Revels

(Revels Records)

The first sound you hear on the new Revels Christmas CD is made by the gaita galega, or Galician bagpipe, and it announces that this year’s “Christmas Revels” (opening Dec. 13 at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge) will be set in the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula. Galicia has a Celtic history (which may or may not explain the bagpipe) and its own language (related to Portuguese) and culture. And the cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela, the rumored burial place of the Apostle James, has long been a pilgrimage destination. Which makes Galicia a natural for “Christmas Revels.”

“The Road to Compostela” includes three Catalan carols, a Spanish lullaby, and a motet by the 16th-century Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero, but the majority of the 23 tracks come from the host region. The disc opens with the “Hymn of the Ancient Galician Kingdom,” a march for gaita and drums. There are lively villancicos navideños, or Christmas carols; there’s a carol of the Three Kings in which the Revels Children ask for pesetas; there’s a hymn to the Black Madonna of Guadalupe, who’s seen walking barefoot on the beach in the Galician port city of Rianxo.

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Most of the carols concern the Nativity. One of the disc’s highlights, however, is a love song, “Ondas do Mar de Vigo” (“Waves of the Sea of Vigo”), by the 13th-century Galician composer Martín Códax, sung wistfully by Jamie Jaffe. And high-spirited dances are performed by a Pilgrim Band of gaitas, drums, tambourine, castanets, harp, guitar, Baroque violin, and viola da gamba. It all ends with the “Travellers’ Carol,” Susan Cooper’s translation of a Catalan original, in which the pilgrims “join hands in greeting” and “rejoice together at the new year’s turning.”

Like just about every Revels release, this one is cause for rejoicing.

J.G.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.
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