A very different, and fabulous, Christmas concert from amarcord in Leipzig

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Live from London ChristmasWeihnacht: Christmas from Germany: amarcord (Wolfram Lattke, Robert Pohlers [tenors], Frank Ozimek [baritone], Daniel Knauft, Holger Krause [basses]) Nikolaikirche, Leipzig, 19.12.2020. (CC)

LassoChriste redemptor omnium – In festo Nativitatis Christi hymnus
Figulus – Puer Natus in Bethlehem
PraetoriusEs ist ein ros’ entsprungen
FreundtGaude, gaude, laetare / Freu dich Sion, und jubilier
Schult-JensenSchlaf wohl, du Himmelsknabe du
AnonJoseph, liber Neve myn, Resonet in laudibus’ (arr. Parrott/Keyte)
LassoResonet in laudibus
Eccard / Bach – Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier
Walter / PraetoriusIn dulci jubilo
MendelssohnHark the Herald Angels Sing (arr. Naomi Crellin)
Trad. (German) – Maria durch ein’ Dornwald (arr. Robert Pohlers)
Köhler – Nu tändas tusen julelius (arr. Nilson)
Trad (French) – Il est né, le divin enfant (arr. Garcia)
Trad (Latvian)Silver rain was falling (arr. Laura Jēkabsone)
GruberStille Nacht (arr. Zeller)

Interval: Canterbury Cathedral Girls’ Choir / David Newsholme (director)
Adan lay y-bounden
The Sussex Carol (arr. David Rees-Williams)

All of the members of the German vocal group amarcord were previously members of the famous St Thomas’ Boys Choir. Five voices, singing in a semicircle: but how exquisitely they are balanced, the purity of the high tenor of Wolfram Lattke balanced by the deep bass of Holger Krause at the other end of the vocal spectrum.

All of this was demonstrated in the first piece, Orlando di Lasso’s Christe redemptor omnium – In festo Nativitatis Christi hymnus. Perfect diction, a true sense of the music’s direction and architecture made this, immediately, one of the most notable performances of the entire Live in London Christmas series. It acted as far more than a preamble to a selection of German Christmas songs. Puer Natus in Bethlehem, a setting by Wolfgang Figulus (c. 1520-1591), Thomaskantor between 1549 and 1555), takes the 13th-century melody and gives us a beautifully jaunty little miniature.

Michael Praetorius’s Es ist ein Ros entsprungen is a choral staple, but emerged freshly minted; less familiar is Gaude, gaude, laetare / Freu dich Sion, und jubilier by Cornelius Freundt (c. 1535-1591), part of the Weihnachtsliederbuch, a selection of 27 pieces. How joyously sprung were the rhythms here; how perfectly judged the cadential approaches.

Taking a tune by Carl Neuner (1778-1830), Morten Schuldt-Jensen (born 1928), in his Schlaf wohl, du Himmelsknabe du (Sleep well, you child of Heaven), offers real lullaby-like gentleness within an identifiably more modern idiom.

Christmas is and always has been one of the most beautiful and busy times in the Thomas Choir; so it is no surprising that Cantors wrote Christmas music, Erhard Mauersberger was (recently) one, and we heard his Weihnacht (Christmas). Mauersberger was Thomaskantor from 1961 to 1972. Heading a little closer to home, at least with a link to co-arranger Andrew Parrott, is a Silesian tune of the early 15th-century, Joseph, liber Neve myn, after the 12th-century Latin Resonet in laudibus, immediately followed by Lasso’s Resonet. It was this latter that impressed most, a jewel amongst jewels, every line alive, the articulation of rapid ascents and descents impeccably judged.

Hearing the positively mystical setting of Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier (verses 1 and 3 set by Johann Eccard, 1553-1611 to a tune by Martin Luther, verse 2 set by Bach) offered high beauty, perfectly unrushed, its pockets of polyphony like little jewels. The first part of the concert ended with the well-known In dulci jubilo (verses 1 and 3 set by Johann Walter, verse 2 by Praetorius), warm, full of comfort.

The interval was given over to Canterbury and the Cathedral Girls’ Choir shown in the splendid setting of that cathedral. Two carols, each beautiful, perfectly complementary; Adam lay y-bounden and Sussex Carol, both with piano.

It was a rather nice touch to have Naomi Crellin’s arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, what with Mendelssohn’s Leipzig associations; and yet this remains an incredibly popular Christmas hymn. The arrangement was as far as you can get from a hymn as one can imagine: a light touch, plenty of gestures that the King’s Singers would surely love. How caressing, then, to hear Maria durch ein’ Dornwald ging straight after, especially haunting with the high tenor line.

It is always nice to be introduced to some new music, and Nu tändas tusen juleljus (A thousand Christmas candles are now being lit) by Emmy Köhler (in an arrangement by Joel Nilson) was a joy to experience. It has everything one could want from music for this time of year. What was also surprising was the piquant harmonies for Il est né, le divin enfant, which turned out to be a precursor for a jazz arrangement by Juan Garcia that, interestingly and delightfully, included a passage of whistling. Amarcord’s tuning is so accurate, just what this music needs.

Performed in Latvian, Laura Jēkabsone’s arrangement of Kalado was ever fascinating, as was Matthias Zeller’s arrangement of Stille Nacht; initially almost referencing the earliest choral musics. A very different, and fabulous, concert.

Colin Clarke

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