Thursday, December 26, 2013

Getting with the Christmas Program -- The Results

Yesterday I hosted a Christmas Morning program on WTJU. In my previous post (Getting with the Christmas Program), I outlined the challenges of lining up music for the show.

So how did I end up balancing sacred/secular, familiar/obscure, choral/instrumental, original version/arrangement in this three-hour classical music program? Here's the playlist, and where it fell in each of the four criteria.

"Lauda perla Nativita del Signore" - Otterino Respighi
 - This work for chorus and orchestra is decidedly unfamiliar to most listeners. Nevertheless, it's a beautiful setting of the Christmas story.

Romanian Christmas Carols - Bela Bartok
 - These would be unfamiliar to most, also. These are arrangements of Romanian carols by Bartok. The solo piano provides contrast to the sound of the previous large-scale work.

Commonwealth Christmas Overture - Malcolm Arnold
 - Arnold's work was commissioned in 1957 by the BBC to commemorate the first Christmas broadcast by a British monarch. It has been performed very few times since the premier. Another unfamiliar work, this was almost all original material by Arnold. The orchestral score contrasts nicely to the Bartok solo piano piece.

"Walking on Air"  - Howard Blake
 - This song from the animated film "The Snowman" is known world-wide. I aired the version from the original soundtrack, so count this under the familar and original music columns. And secular as well, of course.

"Three Moravian Carols" John Antes
 - John Antes was an early 19th century American composer, and a member of the Moravian community. These are his arrangements of Moravian carols for trombone ensemble. A vivid contrast to the sound of "Walking on Air." 

"Frohlocke, were Christenheit" Christoph Graupner
 -  Playing a Christmas cantata is an easy choice for a classical music program. Rather than air selections from Bach's Christmas Oratorio, or any of his cantatas for Advent, I went with a Christmas Day cantata written by a contemporary, Christoph Graupner. This work featured a baroque ensemble and soloists.

"Die Natali, Op. 37" Samuel Barber
 - Barber's 1960 orchestral work quotes some traditional carols, but mixes it with original material as well.

"Bethlehem" - William Billings
"Exultation" - Anon. 18th C.
 - I chose two early American shape-note hymns to provide real contrast. These performances for chorus and period instruments made a sharp contrast to the Barber composition. 

"Weinachthistorie SWV 435 Choruses" Heinrich Schutz
 -  Heinrich Schutz' Christmas Oratorio predates Bach's by a generation, and is one of the greatest of the mid-Baroque period. I didn't have time to air the whole thing, so I chose the opening and closing choruses, which were Schutz's harmonisations of congregational hymns (with new text).

Trois chants de Noel for soprano, piano and flute - Frank Martin
 - These small, intimate carols by Swiss composer Frank Martin changed the mood from the grand choruses of Schutz.

"Fantasia on Christmas Carols"  - Ralph Vaughan Williams
 - Vaughan William's settings of Christmas carols presented the familiar in an original fashion. This work for chorus, orchestra and baritone solo sounded very big following the small chamber carols of Martin. 

"Noel No. 3 Une bergere jolie" Michel Daquin
 - Late Baroque period composer Michel Daquin originally wrote his Noels for organ. The version I aired was an arrangement for period instruments, which gave this work some much-needed tonal variety. 

Nativity Carol - John Rutter
 - If you've sung in any church choir worth its salt, you've probably sung at least one Rutter composition. So call this one familiar. But the setting I chose (conducted by Rutter) was for chorus and orchestra, making it sound different than the way most folks would hear it in church.

"Silent Night from Three Carols, Op. 20" Kevin Oldham
 - It's a holiday tradition. Every program closest to Christmas I end the show with this recording. Oldham retained the words to this carol, and set it to entirely original music. Performed by soprano, flute, and harp, it captures the simplicity of the original carol. Yet at the same time, Oldham's composition helps us hear the overly familiar words anew. 

You can hear the program by going to the WTJU archives. It will be available for streaming through 1/7/14.  

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