Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Music The New Old-Fashioned Way - 2

On Christmas Eve I hosted "Gamut" on WTJU, which aired from 6-9am. As I outlined in part 1, I played what I hoped was an engaging program of music for the season. Here's what I aired -- and why.

Francesco Manfredini, "Concerto 12 in C, Op. 3 "Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale"
Les Amis de Philippe; Ludger Remy (CPO)

Corelli's "Christmas" Concerto Grosso is fairly well-known, but he wasn't the only composer writing instrumental music for liturgical use. Francesco Manfredini was a contemporary of Vivaldi, and this concerto is on par with Corelli's.

I programmed it for two reasons. First, to show that there's more baroque Christmas music than the few that are continually programmed. Second, for listeners who don't like Christmas music, it's a work that can just be enjoyed without any seasonal context.

Rutland Boughton: "Bethlehem, Part 1"
Holst Singers; City of London Sinfonia; Alan G Melville (Hyperion)

Rutland Boughton is one of the lesser-known composers of the Second English Renaissance of the early 1900's. His choral drama "Bethlehem" was written for the first Glastonbury choral festival in 1914, and was performed every year until the festival was discontinued in 1926.

I like Boughton's blend of traditional carols and original music. His music for the shepherds cast them as simple English country folk, and is just delightful to listen to (at least, I think so).

Anon. 15th C., "A Wassail Suite"
The Waverly Consort (Virgin Classics)

The Waverly Consort released a Christmas album featuring music from 13th-century East Anglia to 18th-century New England and Appalachia. The "Wassail Suite" includes some variations on "Greensleeves," played on a variety of renaissance and folk instruments.

I programmed it because the instrumental combinations sounded fresh (compared to traditional orchestras and chamber groups). Also, this is a lively, uptempo performance that's just plain fun to listen to.

Victor Hely-Hutchinson: "Carol Symphony"
City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra; Gavin Sutherland, conductor (Naxos)

Victor Hely-Hutchinson wrote his Carol Symphony for a 1929 BBC concert. The work is actually a set of four preludes, each one taking a carol and setting it in a different compositional style (Bach for the first, Balakirev for the second, and so on).

I programmed it because it was a different type of Christmas carol orchestral arrangement. Although not an entirely serious work, Hely-Hutchinson's music is well-written and stays true to the styles it emulates. In a world of paint-by-number orchestral arranging, the Carol Symphony stands out for its originality.

Jose Mauricio Nunes Garcia: "Laudate Pueri"
L'Ensemble Turicum; Luiz Alves da Silva, director

Jose Garcia was one of Brazil's earliest composers. A contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, Garcia wrote in a similar classical style with more than a hint of Brazilian rhythm.

I programmed it for two reasons. First, I hadn't aired that much sacred Christmas music. Second, the Brazilian influences in Garcia's music give it an exotic sound -- and one I think folks not that enamored of classical music might find attractive.

Percy Grainger: "The Sussex Mummer's Christmas Carol"
Joel Smirnoff, violin; Stephen Drury, piano (Northeastern)

Sure, you've heard the Coventry Carol a million times. But how about the Sussex Mummer's Carol? It's a beautiful, poignant melody, effectively arranged by Percy Granger.

I programmed it because it was unfamiliar -- and a lovely piece of music.

Miklos Rozsa: "Ben-Hur - Star of Bethlehem","King of Kings - Overture and Nativity"
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; Erich Kunzel, conductor (Telarc)

Three scores by Miklos Rosza defined the musical vocabulary religious movie soundtracks would use for decades: "Ben-Hur," Quo Vadis," and "King of Kings." Two of those movies had sequences involving the Nativity. The music Rozsa wrote for those scenes tell the story without words.

I programmed these simply for that reason. Rosza's music effectively paints the picture of the Nativity without resorting to cliche. And it's music that just isn't aired.

Georg Philipp Telemann: "Ouverture a la Pastoralle"
Capella Savaria; Pal Nemeth, conductor (Capriccio)

The Christmas Cantatas of Bach are standard fare. But the Christmas music of his contemporary (and sometime rival) Telemann can be just as compelling. The Ouverture a la Pastoralle is an instrumental work in four movements.

I programmed it because it's well-written music, and it is a nice alternative to Bach's seasonal offerings.

Judith Lang Zaimont: "December: The Carols"
Elizabeth Moak, piano (MSR) [2011] 

Judith Lang Zaimont is a contemporary composer, and writes in an accessible, tonal-based style. This work was from her work "Calendar Set: 12 Virtuosic Preludes."

I programmed it because I think it's important to air living composers (it belies the notion that classical music is a dead art form). And this work had an amazing display of pianistic fireworks, and some sly references to familiar carols presented in an unfamiliar way.

Ralph Vaughan Williams, "Fantasia on Christmas Carols"
Steven Varacoe, baritone; Cambridge Singers; City of London Sinfonia; John Rutter, conductor (Collegium)

Ralph Vaughan Williams set a number of traditional English carols in his fantasia. Vaughan Williams was a master at reworking traditional material in a way that was both true to the source and personally expressive.

I programmed it because it's Ralph Vaughan Williams. 'Nuff said.

William Sandys, "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day"
John Bull, "Carol: Een Kindeken is ons geboren"
Bramley & Stainer, "The Bellman's Carol"
Anon. 15th C., "Ding Dong Merrily on High"  - The Baltimore Consort  (Dorian)

The Baltimore Consort album "Bright Day Star" is a collection of seasonal music from the renaissance and early America.

I programmed it because of the variety. The three selections were all from different time periods, and played on different combinations of instruments. Plus I've always been a fan of Custer LaRue's smokey, yet pure singing tone.

Kevin Oldham, "Silent Night" from Three Carols, Op. 20" - Pamela Williamson, soprano; Lyra Pringle Pherigo, flute; Wesley  (Nimbus)

Kevin Oldham did more than just arrange "Silent Night." He rewrote it, keeping only the lyrics.

I programmed it because of its originality, and the blending of flute, harp, and soprano voice make this an ethereal and delicately beautiful work.

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