Happy Christmas! Here’s a short playlist for a quieter moment (if you have one).
I’ve always loved ‘Adam lay y bounden’, a minstrel song from the 1400s often sung during advent. It has a beautiful shape to it, and it’s had many settings over the years. The one by Boris Ord (great, earthy name) is the most familiar as it gets sung at the famous King’s College carol service every year. I’ve put in a stunning modern version (2006) by Matthew Martin too. It’s full of ancient echoes.
Classical period now. Mozart’s string divertimentos were written as light, entertaining pieces. However, this is no candy floss and his genius always shines through. In the slow movement listen to the quiet sighs and then the sudden outburst of passion later, as if suddenly angering at a memory that you’ve repressed until now. The fast movement is pure Mozart, light but full of interesting inner details.
From the Romantic era, I chose one of the vespers by Rachmaninoff, sung in an all-night vigil. It’s full of heart, and I love hearing it sung by a Russian choir as in this version, with their generous vibrato and luxurious depth of sound.
Then a bit of fun by another Russian, Rimsky-Korsakov in a ‘Dance of the Clowns’ taken from his opera ‘The Snow Maiden’. It’s got a touch of the circus to it, with mad tambourine and triangle parts and thumping bass drum.
I thought I’d keep the bell theme going from the last playlist, this time with a joyful piece by Ravel for two pianos (1897). Ravel was a skilled pianist himself and knew how to get great effects out of the instrument. I love the simplicity of the middle tune too.
Messiaen’s ‘Twenty Contemplations of the Infant Jesus’ is a modern classic, written in the war-torn France of the 40s. It starts with this mystical hymn representing the eternal gaze of the Father. It takes you to a very spiritual place if you let it.
I think the sound of a jolly brass band belongs to Christmas too, so here’s the Canadian Brass ensemble to wrap things up in a sparkly ribbon.