Presto News - 8th December 2008
Top new Christmas recommendations
Each year I’m always surprised by the quantity of genuinely new Christmas inspired releases well worth exploring, and this year is no exception. This week I’ve turned over the whole of the new release section below to Christmas releases but want to explore a few of them in a bit more detail first.
Honegger’s Une Cantate de Noël is a Christmas work with a difference. It was the Swiss composer's last work and arguably one of his most popular compositions. It was written in 1953 and although the text is derived largely from liturgical sources, it also includes traditional carols in French and German. This is very appropriate of course for multilingual Switzerland, but perhaps Honegger also had a more symbolic message of peace in mind, coming just seven years after the conclusion of World War II. It is scored for solo baritone, mixed chorus, children’s choir and an orchestra including organ, and the combination of the different texts and forms creates a wonderfully uplifting effect. Very approachable, and a welcome change from the more established Christmas choral masterpieces.
Moving slightly more mainstream (but still some distance from any sort of traditional Christmas selection) is a new disc from The Choir of Westminster Abbey under James O’Donnell called ‘A Christmas Caroll’. It includes a few contemporary carols from the likes of Jonathan Dove and Bob Chilcott, while the richness of twentieth-century church music is illustrated in works by Poulenc, Walton, Mathias and Leighton, and by the heartbreakingly lovely piece called The little road to Bethlehem by Michael Head. Skilful arrangements of the traditional carols Silent night, In dulci jubilo and I saw three ships complete this highly recommended release.
No living composer has come to be more closely associated with Christmas than John Rutter: for more than thirty years, his carols and other seasonal choral music have been an indispensable feature of Christmas celebrations worldwide. Although by no means all new, 'A Christmas Festival' contains première recordings of over a dozen brand new compositions and arrangements, together with his own selection of seasonal choral and orchestral favourites by other composers. Unless you take a very elitist and highbrow approach to your music, it is the sort of disc which is very hard not to like, and would also make a very good gift for someone new to Classical music. I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t end up our best selling Christmas disc this year.
As usual we’ve set up a special Christmas page on the website where you can browse all Christmas related discs (both new and old), as well as current best sellers, and also find listings and recommendations of popular Christmas works.
Honegger - Une Cantate de Noël
BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, Thierry Fischer
A Christmas Caroll from Westminster Abbey
Robert Quinney (organ), The Choir of Westminster Abbey, James O’Donnell
Rutter - A Christmas Festival
Melanie Marshall, Clara Sanabras & Elin Manahan Thomas, Cambridge Singers, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Farnham Youth Choir, John Rutter
Chris O'Reilly - firstname.lastname@example.org
Further Christmas recommendations
Christmas Concert from the Dresden Frauenkirche
Christine Schäfer (soprano) and Simon Keenlyside (baritone)
The concert was broadcast live by ZDF and reached an audience of millions of viewers. The two soloists were accompanied by the Staatskapelle Dresden and Choir of Sächsischen Staatsoper Dresden conducted by Peter Schreier.
The programme included popular selections from Handel’s Messiah and Bach's Mass in B minor as well as additional works by Mendelssohn, Mozart and Guilmant, and the Advent song Tochter Zion and is also available on DVD.
Homilius - Christmas Oratorio & Jacobi - Christmas Cantata
Sächsisches Vocalensemble & Virtuosi Saxoniae, Ludwig Güttler (director)
The Christmas story by Gottfried August Homilius (1699-1783) as seen through the eyes of the shepherds. With an excellent line up of soloists and large chorus we highly recommend this long forgotten Christmas music.
The Christmas Cantata by Christian August Jacobi (1688-1725) is a deeply moving setting of the Christmas message of the birth of Christ.
Christmas Carols & Motets
Alfred Deller (countertenor), The Deller Consort, Musica Antiqua Wien, René Clemencic
With the LP release in 1956 of "The Holly and the Ivy" on Vanguard, producer Seymour Solomon and countertenor Alfred Deller assembled an innovative program for a Christmas album: one side of carols familiar in the United States and Great Britain, and the other of rare English carols from the medieval and renaissance periods.
Over the next decade, Vanguard would release three more LPs with Deller, two in collaboration with then young early music firebrand René Clemencic and his Vienna-based instrumental consort, focused on English and European music for the nativity and Christmas from the medieval through the early baroque periods.
Here for the first time those four albums are packaged into one budget priced box set.
Gevaert - Christmas Mass 'Puer Natus est Nobis'
Ensemble vocal Le Petit Sablon, Thibaut Lenaerts (director)
François-Auguste Gevaert was born in 1828 and died in December 1908: an opportunity to celebrate the centenary of a lesser-known historical figure. His Christmas harmonisations are admirable pieces of harmonic and contrapuntal craftsmanship and his Grand 'Messe de Noël Puer Natus est nobis, written shortly before his death for basilica Notre-Dame de la Treille in Lille, is a masterpiece.
A Russian Christmas
Dumka Choir, Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra & USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky & Evgeny Svetlanov
What would Christmas be without a performance of The Nutcracker, a helping of Russian Choir music and a hint of sleigh bells and snow.
This wonderful Melodiya release is a great way to musically celebrate the Christmas season. Superbly played and conducted, this is an excellent release for those who like something a little different from the usual carols!
Christmas cantatas by Marc-Antoine Carpentier
Ensemble Stimmkunst & Ensemble 94, Kay Johannsen (director)
The Christmas Cantatas of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) comprise some of the composer’s most glorious sacred music. The excellent singers of the Solistenensemble Stimmkunst take both the solo and the choral parts and the release also features some charming Christmas songs for a small instrumental ensemble.
Tavener - Ex Maria Virgine
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Timothy Brown
Admired for the sheer beauty of his meditative and mystical music, John Tavener writes of his Ex Maria Virgine, which was dedicated to HRH the Prince of Wales and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall in joyful celebration of their marriage: “I have set both familiar and less well known texts, and linked them with an expanding and contracting phrase ‘Ex Maria Virgine’. This refers to Mary the Mother of God - ‘The Eternal Feminine’ - and should be sung with great radiance and femininity.”
Concertos and Cantatas for Christmas
Susan Gritton (soprano), Collegium Musicum 90, Simon Standage
Three popular favourites, Corelli’s gorgeous concerto for Christmas Eve, an idyllic Christmas concerto by Vivaldi, and Manfredini’s Concerto grosso are complemented by two little-known cantatas by Telemann and Scarlatti.
Each of the Italian composers has his own voice, contrasting tremendously with the more rugged German style of Telemann.
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