When Daniel Taylor's Trinity Choir released its 2015 Christmas album Four Thousand Winter, it impressed even the committed scrooges here at CBC Music. And now, a year later, the choir has returned with a record in a very similar mould. Like its predecessor, The Tree of Life features music spanning two millenia: from chants dating back to the earliest days of Christmas celebrations, to contemporary works by Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. But this new album has a concept and a goal of its own.
"The Tree of Life takes the listener on a spiritual journey," wrote Daniel Taylor in the album's liner notes, "guiding us through the notes to the moments of silence between them: here we remember, reflect and give thanks."
The album is structured around Pärt's Seven Magnificat-Antiphons, a collection of gloriously straightforward settings of sixth-century sacred texts. Around the scaffolding of these seven short pieces, Taylor and his choir build a meditative musical experience that's a far cry from the standards-and-sleigh-bells approach to Christmas music. Tavener's setting of William Blake's "The Lamb" is so static, you might find yourself slipping into a trance by the end of its brief running time. Robert Parsons's placid "Ave Maria" will immediately purge your mind of more familiar settings by Schubert and Gounod. And Benjamin Britten's "Hymn to the Virgin" (written when Britten was only 16) cuts straight to the part of you that recognises beauty — regardless of what sort of spiritual journey you may personally be on.
Most of the words you'll hear sung on this album are not from our time, or any time resembling it. They come from bygone societies, practising bygone versions of Christianity. But like Pärt and Tavener before him, Taylor finds contemporary resonance in them: "The Antiphons are the cry of a wounded people who have known loneliness and the loss of dignity," he wrote of the sixth-century texts in Pärt's piece. "We need look no further than our own society to witness this loneliness. There is a lack of understanding, an 'othering' of the vulnerable and disabled, which denies those who live through the actions of their hearts and which blatantly overlooks the vulnerability in each of us."
For Taylor, these ancient cries for help are as necessary today as ever. Perhaps this record can offer solace.
The Tree of Life will be in stores on Nov. 25. You can pre-order it on Amazon.
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