Advent Calendar Day 15 – Rejoice Greatly (Handel)

This is the third Sunday in Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday.  If you go to the sort of church that takes its liturgy seriously, you will find your Advent purple has been brightened up with a swathe of bright pink, and you probably have a pink candle among the purple candles in your Advent wreath.  If you go to the sort of church that takes its liturgy REALLY seriously and has the money to back it up, the priests’ vestments will be pink, too (I was informed that the colour is rose, thank you, not pink.  Rose is evidently a more serious colour than pink.).

To my abiding disappointment, I never seem to manage to get to sing in a church on Gaudete Sunday, and so I mostly have to make do with the pink aftermath when I go in to practice for the inevitable carol service on Advent 4.  One of these years, I’ll have to take myself along to a cathedral and soak up the pinkness, but for now, let’s get back to the music.

Gaudete means ‘rejoice’, so it’s pretty clear where one has to go with this, musically speaking.  There are a lot of options around if you want some rejoiceworthy church music.  I’m a bit partial to this medieval carol, and of course, Purcell’s Bell Anthem (Rejoice in the Lord alway) is gorgeous.  But today, I’m going to share with you a little bit of Handel’s Messiah, because you can’t actually have Christmas without that, it seems.  The thing with the Messiah is that Handel had barely finished writing it before he started messing with it and rearranging it for different choirs that he conducted.  He transposed solos and gave them to different voice parts, he turned solos into duets and duets into solos, and sometimes, he took a piece written in 4/4 timing (think a march rhythm) and turned it into 12/8 (still sort of a march, but a much bouncier one).

For some reason, the 12/8 version of Rejoice Greatly doesn’t get a lot of air time.  I’m not sure why; it’s actually a bit easier to sing than the 4/4, but it still gives the soprano plenty of room to show off her coloratura.  And it is honestly gorgeous to listen to.

I’m afraid I don’t know the name of the soloist in this recording, which is a shame, because she is gorgeous – her voice has just the right lightness and flexibility for the piece, and she is a delight to listen to.  If you do know, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll edit this post accordingly.


Advent Calendar Day 3: Ev’ry Valley (Handel)

This aria is pretty much a requirement for the first week of Advent.  For one thing, it’s from Handel’s Messiah, which is compulsory listening at this time of year, at least in my world.  For another, it’s one of the classic texts for the service of nine lessons and carols which we do at Wesley each year.  I always have a hard time in that service keeping still, because almost every text read is something I know music for.  (Actually, with more than a dozen years of church choir singing, I’m getting to be that way in an awful lot of services.  One really does wind up with an extensive knowledge of the King James translation, at least.)

Of course, the question is always which version of this aria to use, because everyone has done one.  I am usually unable to resist Ian Bostridge’s absolutely impeccable version – I love his lightness of touch with the coloratura, and also I have a serious musical crush on him, so there’s that, too.  Or there’s the version by Jon Vickers, which I have been told by wiser heads that I should not like, but I secretly do anyway.

But while I was trolling YouTube, listening to more versions of Ev’ry Valley than any sane person should have to endure, I came across this very cheerful and bouncy version sung by Juan Diego Florez, a Peruvian tenor, known for his bel canto roles, and I found it rather irresistible.  I suspect that a person of true musical refinement (i.e., not me) would prefer a somewhat more sedate pace for this aria, but it’s certainly fun hearing someone go at the coloratura like that and get it right.  Very exciting to listen to – you go, Juan!

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