Saturday, 24 December 2011

Euphonious and Reassuring...Christmas over the Air-Waves

The family are gathered around the table for a light Christmas Eve meal, with wine. The lights are dimmed and the Christmas Tree is shimmering. Classic FM is on it the background, playing its listeners' favourite Christmas carols, though the concept of 'carol' stretches (with a contented sigh) to include Roberto Alagna being soulful in the increasingly popular (when did that happen?) O Holy Night by Adolphe Adam (of Giselle fame), and there's John Rutter (inevitably) with his nice and sweet Candlelight Carol. Alongside We Three Kings (my favourite carol as a child), While Shepherds Wash... and the like, plus all the Classically-trained choirs letting their hair down with pieces like Jingle Bells, there's the sleigh-bell-infested Troika from Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije (my sister doesn't recognise the name, but I say I Believe in Father Christmas by Greg Lake (wasn't he young-looking?) and she goes, 'Oh yes!') and, slightly surprisingly (though, as it's got sleigh bells, there's no reason why it should be surprising), Delius's Sleigh Ride. Oh, and the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah, naturally. They're snoozing now and I'm typing.

Tomorrow, Christmas Dinner and A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge (BBC Radio 3) - more carols complete with now-famous descants, Cornelius's The Three Kings (yum!), a touch of holy modernity from Arvo Pärt and Sir John Tavener (oh yes, it's The Lamb), plus a little something from the wonderful Judith Weir (hurray!) and a new piece from her fellow female (now where's that smiley emoticon when you need it?) Tansy Davies, oh, and nine lessons. (Religion? Why drag that into Christmas?)

Lots that's euphonious and reassuring.

"Euphonious and reassuring"? That's a quote from a leading music critic in the UK (who, in the spirit of Christmas, shall remain unnamed) about the music of Morten Lauridsen, whose O magnum mysterium is becoming a favourite with English choirs. He meant it as a criticism. Only in modern musical criticism could the words "euphonious" and "reassuring" be used as if they were a bad thing. Lauridsen's motet is, indeed, euphonious and reassuring and that is emphatically not a bad thing. Lauridsen's style is part-Pärt and part-Poulenc, using a lot of dissonance but so gently as to sound consonant throughout. It's a beautiful piece of music.

Euphonious and reassuring. That's Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!

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