Friday 21 December 2018

The Sixteen at Christmas - The Little Child

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen
Harry Christophers and The Sixteen
The Little Child; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; Cadogan Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 December 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A nicely rounded Christmas programme which combined more serious elements with the eternally popular

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen have been touring their 2018 Christmas programme and we caught up with them at Cadogan Hall on Tuesday 18 December 2018 as part of Choral at Cadogan. Under the title The Little Child, the programme presented an intriguing selection of music which explored aspects of the Christmas story centred around the Christ child but which included more serious elements such as the Holy Innocents, and gave a nicely rounded programme without excessive Christmas kitsch. So there was music by Sweelinck, Howells, Richard Rodney Bennett, William Walton, George Kirbye, Kenneth Leighton, William Byrd, Palestrina, Giaches de Wert, Joseph Phibbs, Cecilia McDowall, John Sheppard and Peter Warlock.

We started with a bright and brilliant account of Sweelinck's Hodie Christus natus est, followed by Howells in a more thoughtful vein in Sing lullaby. The next three all linked the Saviour's birth to his mission using medieval texts, with an urgent account Richard Rodney Bennett's Susanni and Walton's bright and rhythmic All this time separated by the traditional The Saviour's Work, a piece with which I was not familiar at all.
The plainsong Anima nostra (the Offertory for the feast of the Holy Innocents) led to 17th century English composer George Kirbye's Vox in Rama, setting a text about Rachel lamenting the death of her children, a piece with beautifully intertwining yet stately lines.

Kenneth Leighton's setting of the Coventry Carol proved to be a little gem, and was followed by another less familiar traditional piece, Down in yon forest, with William Byrd's lively and upbeat This day Christ was born as a nice piece of contrast.

The first half ended with Palestrina's setting of the Latin Christmas hymn, A solus ortus cardine which alternated plainchant with Palestrina's dignified and serious yet richly-textured polyphony.

The second half opened with the lively traditional Latin Puer nobis nascitur, originally from the 1582 publication Piae cantiones and which is popular enough to have made it into carol books in its English version, and then we heard another setting of Vox in Rama, this time by the Flemish composer Giaches de Wert, rather dark and sombre yet strikingly resonant piece, with some fabulous chromatic harmony for the phrase 'Rachel plorans'.  Another more well known traditional piece came next, It came upon the Midnight clear.

Joseph Phibbs' Lullay, lullay, thou lytil child was a contemporary piece setting a Medieval text to striking effect, combining the traditional carol form with notable modern harmonies, and this provided a fine contrast to the traditional three-part version of the Coventry Carol with its delicious harmonies. Byrd's Lullaby, my sweet baby proved surprisingly sombre, and was quite a substantial and complex piece. Cecilia McDowall also set a Medieval text for her Now we may singen, enlivening it with lots of uneven rhythmic phrases to create something catchy and engaging.

John Sheppard's A solis ortus cardine also set the Latin Christmas hymn, also alternating chant and polyphony but Sheppard's distinctive English sound world was immediately apparent in this expansively sonorous setting. The final piece in the offical programme was Peter Warlock's lively Benedicamus Domino, all snappy rhythms.

We were treated to two encores, both on the theme of bells first Ding, dong merrily on high and the Carol of the Bell by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • A mash up of Gilbert & Sullivan and the Carry On films: Straus' The Pearls of Cleopatra at the Komische Oper, Berlin  (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Messiah in Berlin: Handel's oratorio staged in the Philharmonie (★★★★★) - music theatre review
  • A triumphal Messiah: Andrew Arthur and the Hanover Band at Kings Place  (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Towards the Global Jukebox - feature article
  • Echoes of Parsifal: songs and piano music by Robin Holloway on Delphian (★★★½) - CD review
  • Clarinettist dedications: Roeland Hendrikx in three contrasting concertos for clarinet (★★★½)  - CD review
  • Carols and more: Our annual Christmas disc round-up - CD review
  • Reviving Mozart in Wales & family connections in Milton Keynes: I chat to conductor Damian Iorio - my interview
  • Chocolate covered fairy-tale: Hänsel und Gretel at Covent Garden (★★★½) - opera review
  • Joyous discovery: Alessandro Scarlatti's Messa per il Santissimo Natale (★★★★)  - concert review
  • Powerful memorial: composer Andrew Smith on his Requiem dedicated to the victims of the 2011 Utøya massacre in Norway  - interview
  • Christmas in Leipzig: Solomon's Knot in Bach, Schelle & Kuhnau (★★★★) - concert review
  • Winter Fragments: Chamber music by Michael Berkeley (★★★½) - CD review
  • Intimate delight: 18th century chamber cantatas from Tim Mead, Louise Alder & Arcangelo - (★★★★½)  concert review
  • Home

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