Advent Calendar Day 25: Four Carols and an Oratorio

Merry Christmas!  I always find it impossible to choose just one beautiful piece of music for Christmas Day, and this year, I’m not even going to try!  Instead, you are getting four carols and an oratorio – and it’s all I can do not to add more, because there are SO MANY carols that I love.  Really, SO VERY MANY…

I love all the things that are going on in this arrangement of In Dulci Jubilo by David Willcocks – fugal bits, little floaty descants, you name it.  It comes together just beautifully, and I love the wistfulness of the ending.

You can’t have Christmas without a big descant, and Hark the Herald Angels does have, objectively, the very best of all the descants (even if it’s a bit of a pig to sing if you are only a part-time soprano like me). Also, who doesn’t love a good trumpet fanfare at Christmas?  (The choir who is trying to sing descants against it without ruining their voices, that’s who…) (but seriously, it’s pretty glorious).

The Holly and the Ivy has always been a favourite carol of mine, and didn’t fit into my playlist this year, so here it is, in a particularly lavish arrangement by Henry Walford Davies, and conducted by John Rutter.

You will not often find me approving of a Rutter Christmas carol, but I make an exception for this lovely version of Joy to the World.  I think Rutter is at his best when arranging existing carols, and when given someone lets him have trumpets, and here he has both of these things, with excellent results.

Last of all, something which isn’t a carol but is yet another Christmas Oratorio, this one by Camille Saint Saëns.  I’ve shared this before, because I love it, especially the Alleluia and the Consurge.  It’s very pastoral and sweet, and is quite short by oratorio standards – 40 minutes, so just about right to wind down to on Christmas night.

And that brings us to the end of our musical journey through Advent!  I hope you’ve enjoyed the music I’ve shared, and that you have a joyful and stress-free Christmas and a healthy and happy 2019.

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Advent Calendar Day 6: Bereite Dich, Zion (J.S. Bach)

After all that lovely, flowing plainchant from yesterday, I thought we needed something a little stricter in tempo and generally more modern… and what could be more modern than Bach?  Well, several centuries worth of composers, admittedly, but Bach was pretty modern for his time, having a fine time playing with the new-fangled Well Tempered Clavier and demonstrating that one really could compose in any key.  Piano students the world over do not thank him for this.  But it was pretty hot stuff at the time.

This aria comes from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, but technically fits into the Advent theme, because it is another ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’ sort of text.  In fact, the lyrics translate roughly as “Prepare yourself, Sion, with tender efforts, to behold your lovely one, your beloved, near you soon! Your cheeks must now glow much more radiantly, hurry to love the Bridegroom with passion!”.

As I said, hot stuff.  But you’d never know it from the beautiful restraint of the music.  I especially love Anne Sofie von Otter’s rendition of this piece – her style is very delicate and baroque, and fits perfectly with the violin – she even shares some of the trills.  And her ornaments are just right. Lovely.

Edited in December 2017: Alas, the video of Anne Sofie von Otter singing Bereite Dich Zion is no longer available, so instead I’ve inserted a version sung by Elisabeth Kulman and the Münchner Bach Choir, which is extra fun, because it gives you a bit of context, and the pleasing image of the conductor singing the role of the Evangelist.  It’s a bit hearty and less delicate than von Otter’s version, but I still like it very much. If you would like to hear Anne Sofie von Otter in action, here she is singing ‘Schlafe, mein Liebster‘, also from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.