United Kingdom Christmas with The King’s Singers: The King’s Singers, Holy Trinity Church, Chrishall. Livestream viewed via IDAGIO’s Global Concert Hall on 22.12.2020. (RP)
James Lord Pierpont – ‘Jingle Bells’ (arr. Langford)
Michael Praetorius – ‘Christus, der uns selig macht’, ‘Ein Kind geboren zu Bethlehem’
Giovanni P. da Palestrina – ‘Alma redemptoris Mater’
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – ‘The Crown of Roses’ (arr. Lubbock)
Bob Chilcott – ‘The Shepherd’s Carol’
Herbert Howells – ‘A spotless rose’
John Rutter – ‘There is a flower’
Irving Berlin – ‘White Christmas’ (arr. Rice)
Mel Tormé – The Christmas Song’ (arr. Knight)
Franz Gruber – ‘Stille Nacht’ (arr. Rutter)
Trad. (Austrian) – ‘Still, still, still’ (arr. L’Estrange)
Trad. (English) – ‘God rest you merry gentlemen’ (arr. Keating), ‘Deck the hall’ (arr. Langford)
Trad. (French) – ‘Noël Nouvelet’ (arr. Lawson)
Ebenezer Scrooge’s words need to be massaged a bit, but they do the trick. ‘Every idiot who goes about with “Christmas has been cancelled” on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart’. That holds doubly true for the press and politicians. For confirmation of that fact, or just to satisfy your craving for comfort this Christmastide, you need do nothing more than listen to Christmas with The King’s Singers.
For their Holiday offering, the gentlemen returned to Holy Trinity Church in Chrishall, where they performed their first digital concert on 30 July when lockdown orders were being eased in England. They opened that concert with Harold Arlen’s ‘It’s a New World’. Several months on, it’s definitely an uncertain one, but the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future are with us always, and The King’s Singers doing Christmas classics that span the ages is a reminder of that and so much more.
As in July, John Rutter, whose carols are among the gems of the Christmas repertoire, made it possible for the gentlemen to sing in his village church. It’s an ancient building (construction began in the twelfth century) and rather austere, with white walls and clear glass windows. The communion rail was decked with greens, while single sprigs decorated each of the music stands. Rutter’s lovely ‘There is a flower’ was among the carols that the men sang.
I’ve made music at Christmas for longer than any of The King’s Singers have been alive, although not this year. Sunset on Christmas Eve is a special time for me. A stillness as well as a sense of expectancy seem to envelop the Earth, and day yields to night. There is no need to pick favorites in this concert, but the soft, tender carols were something to treasure, and none were more beautiful that the traditional Austrian ‘Still, still, still’. This simple song contained all the magic of Christmas for me.
The King’s Singers captured the wonder and awe of the Nativity in Bob Chilcott’s ‘The Shepherd’s Carol’, of which Rutter has said, ‘For my money, this is the most beautiful modern carol there is’. It’s a song of subtle emotions, but Chilcott creates the spaciousness and brilliance of a starlit wintery sky in the words ‘Oh, a voice from the sky’, and the music burst with the joyful tidings of Christ’s birth.
The expectancy and excitement of Christmas were present in a sparkling rendition of Michael Praetorius’s ‘Ein Kind geboren zu Bethlehem’ and with the haunting traditional French carol ‘Noël Nouvelet’. Tchaikovsky’s ‘Roses and Thorns’, based on a poem by the mid-nineteenth-century American poet Richard Henry Stoddard, links a red rose and children taunting the boy Jesus with the instruments of his Passion. It is the Russian composer at his simplest.
Perhaps more than any other Christmas, at least since World War II, this is a time for nostalgia. The King’s Singers don’t disappoint, although their bouncy, jazzy and fun-filled performances of traditional English carols and twentieth-century treasures quickly replace the tear in the eye with a glow in the heart, especially in ‘White Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song’. They end with ‘Silent Night’, and we’re enveloped again by that magical stillness of Christmas.
To watch Christmas with The King’s Singers, which is available through 31 December, click here.