Sunday, December 17, 2006

Welcum Yule

A friend, Kate Irving, sings in the New York City choral group, The Canticum Novum Singers, founded and directed by Harold Rosenbaum. On Saturday, the Singers performed a concert of carols at St. Paul & St. Andrew Church, and Mark Nickels was kind enough to ask for me, and Kate kind enough to give, a complimentary ticket.

The sixteenth century Spanish carols, which opened the concert, sounded as if they were inspired by folk songs. They seemed to be suffused with a ruddy good cheer, and a wild rural spirit rattled out by the tambourine.

I really enjoyed the two works of Josquin des Prez (c.1440-1521), especially the Ave Maria. The soprano voices soared with such purity till they appeared to be coming out of the mouths of the two full-sized, wing-extended angels high up on both sides of the altar.

In contrast, the English carols after the intermission were full of earthy, Dickensian good cheer. The cherubs in Mendelssohn’s Hark the Herald Angels Sing were more akin to the Victorian angel in the house, than to any celestial being. The spiral downwards from heaven to hearth was a kind of fall.

The organ was temperamental, and so it played only for the concluding carol. To make it up to the audience, a sixteen year old chorus member (I can’t remember his name, though his good looks stay with me) played Debussy’s The Sunken Cathedral. Why do the opening notes immediately yell out FRENCH? The boy played the piece expressively, and the massive weight of that edifice could be felt rising from and then sinking in the waters. But I felt the cathedral remained a cathedral in the playing.

-Three Spanish Christmas Carols of the Sixteenth Century (Anonymous)
1. E la don, don Verges Maria
2. Dadme albricias, hijos d’Eva
3. Riu, Riu, Chiu
-Ave Maria and Virgo Salutiferi (Josquin des Prez c. 1440-1521)
-Resonet in Laudibus (Orlando Lassus 1532-1594)
-Angel’s Carol (John Rutter b. 1945)
-Cradle Song (Nancy Wertsch, Words by William Blake)
-Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming (Arr. Harold Rosenbaum)
-Fantasia on Christmas Carols (R. Vaughan Williams)
-Ding Dong! Merrily on High (16th Century French traditional carol)
-Away in a Manger (W. J. Kirkpatrick 1838-1920)
-Hark the Herald Angels Sing (Felix Mendelssohn 1809-1847)


Anonymous said...

The element that screamed "French" was no doubt Debussy's use of the whole tone and pentatonic scales. These modes were used in 19th century symphonic music by the Russians first, people like Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin. It was picked up with a vengeance by Debussy, Ravel and Satie ( hence the "French" sound). These modes tend to give this music its characteristically "dreamy" contours and could be seen first as a form of orientalism , and then as a sort of signature element in impressionist music. One way to explain pentatonic:the major scale with the fourth and seventh tones omitted. Wikipedia has pretty good write ups on all the modes.

The boy at the piano was Simon Frisch.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Is that you, Kate? Or is it Mark? Thanks for the tip!

Jee Leong

Rui said...

pentatonic - what you get when you play just the black keys on a keyboard. i found out somewhere back in school that i could 'fake' an oriental sound on the piano by just playing on the black keys. quite fun. :)

Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi rui!
Happy Christmas, whether you celebrate it or not. I used to play Richard Clayderman on the piano, with all the wrong fingering. A kind of faking too.

Jee Leong