In Terra Pax: a Christmas Anth
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Performances of carols both ancient and modern have become central to the celebration of Christmas. The choral music on this disc includes Holst' surprisingly neglected Christmas Day, as well as music by Leighton, Joubert, Mathias, Gardner and Rutter.
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"In terra pax - Christmas scene" is the major work of the disc and is scored for orchestra, baritone, soprano and chorus. The music paints a picture of a frosty night on Christmas Eve in a long introduction before the baritone sings a word picture of pealing bells and distant music. A mixed chorus sings verses from the gospel of Saint Luke with a brief solo for soprano. The music settles into a depiction of the winter's landscape and the baritone resumes his reflections. The charming Three carols of Peter Warlock are for orchestra and chorus and soprano and include "Tyrley, tyrlow"," Balulalow" and "As I sat under a sycamore tree." This is followed by "A hymn of the Nativity" by Kenneth Leighton, a work that begins with a solo soprano who is joined by a male chorus and then a mixed chorus of women and men. This is a beautifully conceived work evoking the nativity with simply but with great effect.
The familiar hymn "What sweeter music" by John Rutter follows and finds an excellent companion piece with Tomorrow shall be my dancing day by John Gardner. Both works are for mixed chorus with the Gardner including a piano and tambourine. Another carol by Mathias - "A Babe is born" - for organ and mixed chorus relates the reaction of shepherds and the three kings to the birth of Jesus. The final selection is by Ralph Vaughan Williams and is a setting of four carols - "Children's Christmas song", "Wassail song", "In Bethlehem city" and "God bless the Master."
The music on this disc is beautifully performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the City of London Choir. Julia Doyle and Roderick Williams are superb and conductor Hilary Daven Wetton provides sensitive direction. This magnificent Christmas music disc should not be missed.
Opening the disc is Holst's "Christmas Day" which uses such "Good Christian Men Rejoice" and "God Rest You Merry Gentleman". Holst succeeds in adding a symphonic element to his arrangement without taking away from the festivity of the carols--he adds to it, in fact. (Yes, Holst didn't just write the Planets!)
Finzi's "In Terra Pax" is in a category all of its own, as it is all original to Finzi. A talented man who sadly died rather young, he as a style all his own, wandering and nostalgic. This Christmas scene is one of the best compositions I've heard from him (he didn't write that many). It's not as directly festive in nature as most of the other works on this disc, but it is wonderful all the same. Certainly it is the most dramatic work on this disc; the description of the angels greeting the shepherds captures the terror that the shepherds must have felt. But most gripping are the moments when Finzi lets his lyrical side take over. The music sinks deep into your soul.
Warlock's "3 Carols" are delightful arrangements, very catchy. Unlike Finzi, Warlock is about as festive as you can get, incorporating elements of pure fun. It's tough to resist indulging in such joyful music.
Vaughan Williams' "Folksongs of Winter" may very well be the greatest work on the whole disc. No one else can arrange carols as naturally as he can. He sticks some of his own original material in, and it blends so well with the traditional tunes that you can almost forget which it is. Vaughan Williams manages to be bright and cheery while still keeping his famous pastoral quality, something that seems to come effortlessly for him. In any event, this set is worth the price of the whole disc.
The Bournemouth Symphony under Hilary Davan Wetton performs all the works wonderfully. Naxos' sound quality is great.
In closing, this is a wonderful disc that you should grab if you want to explore a more "Classical" Christmas. I've certainly been very impressed.
That being said, it doesn't affect the enjoyment of the music......
The composers Joubert, Finzi, Leighton, and Mathias haven't had a lot of CD exposure in the Christmas recordings that I've viewed, and I was interested in hearing examples of their work. Thanks to Naxos for putting this collection together.
Ken the Musician in Marshalltown, Iowa