A First Friday celebration of Christmas music in three aspects, familiar and reinterpreted: favorite choruses from Handel’s oratorio Messiah, a suite of carols for choir and soloists by our own Warren Cohen, and the poetry of Robert Bridges and St. Luke set in an English pastoral landscape by Gerald Finzi. Read the complete program notes for An English Christmas
Although there are probably more concerts given in December than in the rest of the year combined, Christmas music is largely a traditional affair that comes in a few neat packages: We have Messiah and Nutcracker performances, pops concerts that end with Sleigh Ride, choral concerts with reverently slow versions of popular carols, church nativities and fundraising events with Amahl and the Night Visitors. The odd thing is that there seems to be little overlap between these types of events, and some very fine music slips between the cracks.
In this concert we bring together the choral carols and Messiah traditions, and add some twists of our own. The carol arrangements presented here, by our own Music Director Warren Cohen, are non-traditional in that they are a serious but lively bunch, with several lesser known carols, and unusual approaches to well known ones; both the “American” and “English” versions of Away in a Manger are performed at the same time; Ding Dong Merrily on High is presented in a style reminiscent of bluegrass fiddling, and The Holly and the Ivy is done like a wayward Handel ensemble.
A more reflective mood is set by Gerald Finzi’s remarkable In Terra Pax, a work that mixes a wonderful Christmas poem by Robert Bridges with passages from The Gospel of St. Luke, to create one of the most beautiful Christmas pieces ever written. In it, the choir recreates the sound of bells pealing from churches in English villages on “a frosty Christmas Eve.”
Featured performers include the 80-voice West Valley Chorale, directed by Ken Goodenberger, who will be tenor soloist in the Cohen Carols. The baritone soloist in In Terra Pax will be MusicaNova’s own Robert Altizer.