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 1: Veni, Veni Emmanuel (The King’s Singers)

It’s December, which means it’s musical Advent Calendar time (and possibly also, oh look, I have a music blog, maybe I should stop ignoring it time)!

I’m starting Advent this year with a recording of The King’s Singers, singing Veni, Veni Emmanuel, a Christmas Carol – or, really, an Advent Carol – with medieval origins.

It is well known, I think, that I adore The King’s Singers.  They are, in my view, the best vocal group currently performing, and their harmony and clarity is so perfect that when you hear them in concert, their music often develops extra harmonics from the resonances.  Their work is, quite simply, sublime.

I’m particularly fond of Veni Veni Emmanuel, because of all the ways it has developed over the years.  In its purest form, it’s simply Gregorian chant (and one thing I like about the King’s Singers version of it is that they do start in unison, befitting the music’s origins, before developing the harmonies in later verses); it can also be sung as a big Christmas Carol with organ and descant à la Willcocks.  And in between you get thoughtful, countermelody versions by the Medieval Baebes, or solo versions by Celtic musicians like Enya.  And then there’s the version by Nox Arcana…  All different, and all gorgeous – very few people do this hymn badly, I find.

The text is a paraphrase of Isaiah, and properly belongs in the third week of Advent, but I like it as a starting point, since it is an invitation, after all.  And that is the start of any journey.

Advent Calendar Day 24 – Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day (Trad.)

Very nearly at the end of this Advent journey, and I’ve been saving this one because the words deserve to be heard the day before Christmas.

(…though now that I’ve looked up the song on Wikipedia, I find that there are significantly more words than I was aware of. Yet another medieval carol that gets all the way to Easter before it stops, apparently. Given the cheery cheery nature of the tune, I can’t help suspecting that the Judas and crucifixion verses would sound more than a little odd.)

Anyway. This is a song I have sung in many different arrangements. I’ve always loved the tune and the words – it’s just basically a nice, pretty piece of music.

But oh, the arrangements.

I’ve sung one arrangement that I really liked (with the Wesley choir a few years ago), one I didn’t mind (with the Wesley choir this year), and then there is the other arrangement. A few weeks ago, I promised you the song with the Orgasmic Alto Line – well, this is it. This arrangement has caused more carollers to start giggling and losing it than that line in Jingle Bells about ‘take the girls tonight’, or even the charming juxtaposition of ‘This did Herod sore affray and grievously bewilder / so he gave the word to slay and slew the little childer’ with ‘Of his love and mercy mild, this the Christmas story’, in another carol (Unto us is born a son) that someone really ought to have thought about before they abridged it.

But I digress. Because this is a really lovely carol, I’m presenting it in two arrangements – one I haven’t sung, but which I quite like (though it is a little slow, and I’m sad I couldn’t find that particularly good arrangement from a year or two ago), and yes, the Orgasmic Alto (and tenor and bass) arrangement, sung by King’s College Choir, who are doing a fine job of acting as though they’ve never heard of dubious scoring (as the actress said to the bishop).

I was about to say that when one isn’t being extremely immature about this arrangement, it’s actually very good, but then I listened to it again and reluctantly acknowledge that I for one can’t be anything but extremely immature about it. Though it is gorgeous once you get past that first appalling chorus.

(oh God, it comes back in the last verse! I’d forgotten that… possibly because we never got that far without losing it)