It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
This is not really Christmas Music. No matter, Arvo Part is all about choral music and deserves to be included in this collection of Holiday music. While firmly established as one of the most important instrumental composers of the Twentieth Century, Estonian Arvo Pä²§ (born 1935) fully distinguished himself as a choral composer. Since 1976, Part has employed a compositional technique he labeled tintinnabuli (from the Latin: "little bells"), where the composer uses bell-like resonances in triads, underscoring a melodic voice revolving around a central key. That is the technical description. The method takes on almost a religious connotation as used by Part. Berliner Messe contains compositions elaborated with Part's tintinnabuli method. The earliest pieces are the "Cantate" and "Summa," both dating from 1977. The former was revised twenty years later into the form presented here. His "De Profundis" was composed in 1980, the "Magnificat," based on Luke's account of the Blessed Virgin's Song in 1989, and the "Beatitudes" in 1990 with revision a year later. Part's "Berlin Mass" was composed and revised in 1992, making it the most recent composition of the collection. The "Cantate" is a beautiful setting of Psalm 95 ("O sing unto the Lord a new song?") with organ accompaniment. The Mass has a traditional string accompaniment, as it was originally scored for string quartet. The setting is traditional. "De Profundis" (Psalm 129, "Out of the deep have I called unto thee, o Lord?") is one of Pä²§'s most enduring settings, having been recorded many times. Here, the Elora Festival Singers under the direction of Noel Edison provide the scripture with an light airy bed for consideration. The performance of all pieces is solid and enduring. This Naxos set competes well with the Paul Hillier ECM series.
Tracks: Cantate Domino Canticum Novum (Psalm 95); Berliner Messe; De Profundis; Summa; The Beatitudes; Magnificat
The tradition of Christmas carols is as old as Christianity itself and has given rise to many other related holiday traditions. The English have been instrumental in the evolution of carols and caroling, uniting them and Biblical Lessons into programs (as Benjamin Britten did in A Ceremony of Carols, for trumpet, voices & harp, Op. 28 in 1942). Over the past two millennia, new pieces have been added to the Christmas canon with confident regularity. Again, the British have been at the forefront of this evolution, with Christmas standards being provided by everyone from Thomas Tallis and John Taverner to John Rutter and John Tavener. With respect to this, Naxos Records commissioned an Advent Sequence of Carols from Antony Pitts and his very talented group, Tonus Peregrinus. Pitts took his commissionand using 23 canonical carols and one of his own, rearranged them, re-realized them, and grouped them into four sequences, each focusing on a different portion of the Christmas story. These arrangements are intended for widespread use and, for the most part; do not stray from the soprano, alto, tenor, baritone paradigm. The four sequences are divided on thematic lines. "The Hope" is made up of five carols highlighting the thematic dichotomy of Adventthe hope of the Messiah and the glory to Reign. "The Message" is comprised of seven carols announcing Christ's conception and birth. The six carols of "The Baby" sequence detail Luke's Second Chapter account of the birth, while the final "King of Kings" focuses on adoration of the Divine. Collectively, this sequence of carols is almost an assembled oratorio, expertly dissolved in the Spirit.
Tracks: O come, o come, Emmanuel; Of the Father's heart begotten; O quickly come; Verbum Patris umanatur, O, O; Lo! He comes; The holly and the ivy; Lo, there a Rose is blooming; Alleluya - a new work; Ding! dong! merrily on high; While shepherds watched; The Song of Angels Hark! the herald angels sing; Silent night; Away in a manger; Baby Jesus, hush! now sleep little town of Bethlehem; Jesu, the very thought is sweet; O come, all ye faithful; Personent hodie; In dulci jubilo.
The beauty of recordings like this is the simplicity. Like a string quart or quintet, a brass ensemble's music is elementary. It is not simple-minded; the music is simply stripped to the essence so that all creative elements are naked and easily heard. Beltway Brass is not exception. This quintet takes 14 time-tested holiday carols and songs and melds each with a musical amalgam consisting of Baroque, Classical, Blues, and Jazz. The horn quintet provides a great sonic palette with which to color holiday fare. It is a happy and hopeful sound that the Beltway Brass effortlessly infuses with holiday cheer.