Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve (is over): Vaughn Williams and Britten rule

On Christmas days in the past, I used to play two particular works by CD.  One was Hodie ("This Day"), the Christmas cantata by Ralph Vaughn Williams, almost an hour, a 1969 performance by David Wilcox on EMI-Angel.  The ending is rather virile, and calls to mind the conclusion of the Eigtth Symphony. The other was an RCA recording with the St. Louis Symphony and the Tchaikovsky complete Nutcracker.

The Tchaikovsky really sounds hackneyed to my ear now.  The best moment is not at the very end (in B flat), but another fast passage near the end that crashes down in G Major.  I remember hearing this climax play one day at the old Crossroads Market in Dallas (at Cedar Springs and Throckmorton). The Nutcracker sounds less effective to my ear than “Swan Lake”, which was realized so well in the 2010 film “Black Swan”.  And remember how director Paul Thomas Anderson used the finale of the Brahms Violin Concerto so effectively in the end-credits of his 2007 Christmas-season film "There Will Be Blood"?  A teenager sitting next to me made his whole family stay to hear the complete movement before leaving the theater.  
And don't forget Rimsky-Korsakov's "Christmas Eve Suite", a favorite of a high school friend my senior year.

There is actually a piano solo Christmas hymn by Franz Liszt, in D-flat major, in an old hardbound anthology that I would have to hunt for.  It's bombastic and rather resembles "St. Francis Walking on the Water". 

There was some notable a cappella vocal music at the Christmas Eve 11 PM service last night at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA., some rather modal arrangements of familiar carols, followed by some Britten (one piece from the Ceremony of Carols), and Rutter, and anthems by Jonathan Willcocks, John Leavitt, Bob Chilcott, and Daniel Kantor (“Night of Silence”). 

As we sung the carols, I noticed that Ralph Vaughn Williams has his own setting for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” that nobody uses.

The pre-school at the church has some artwork in the hallway, with one of them a visual comparsion Mozart (fast, with violins) to Tchaikovsky (slow, with flutes).  
Christmas celebrations this year seem a little less elaborate than in years past.  It’s not so much recession (not in this area); it’s more that people seem to be moving back into their own personal spaces.  That’s common in large cities, and it’s happening a little more in affluent suburbs, too.  I think as we become more “self-sufficient” we think we need to do less together.  There’s the whole idea of “Alone together”, like on Facebook.  It’s funny, because from my Twitter feed I can tell that a friend some hundreds of miles away is watching “The Hobbit” to celebrate Christmas Eve.

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