Serafim Smigelskiy, the cellist in the Tesla Quartet, playing alone in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Photo by Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Faces of Classical Music
wish you a
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Vivaldi Ma Non Solo: Marita Paparizou sings Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel & Ferdinando Bertoni – I Solisti Veneti, Claudio Scimone (Audio videos)

Mezzo-soprano Marita Paparizou is one of the most interesting voices in the current operatic firmament.  Even during her studies at the Athens Conservatoire, she shone for her unusual gifts.

After her debut in Genoa in a prestigious presentation of Niccolò Porpora's Arianna a Nasso, recorded and distributed by Bongiovanni, she began an international career and concentrated on a repertoire ranging from the 17th century to Rossini and beyond, excelling in characters as diverse as Rossini's Rosina, Isolier, Arsace, Isabella to Smeton in Donizetti's Anna Bolena, to Verdi parts such as Fenena in Nabucco and Maddalena in Rigoletto and other 19th century works.

Marita Paparizou also distinguished herself as a refined concert artist both of oratorio and chamber music. She forged an important niche for herself in the Baroque repertoire and became one of its most important specialists around today.

This is confirmed  by her latest disc, in which one can hear arias such as "Nel profondo cieco mondo" and "Sorge l'irato nembo e la fatal tempesta" from Orlando furioso, RV 728, "Gelido in ogni vena" from Farnace, RV 711, and Stabat Mater in F minor, RV 621. At the opposite end from these famous Vivaldi pieces, the artist presents the arias "Moriró, ma vendicata" from Handel's Teseo and "Addio, o miei sospiri" from Orfeo ed Euridice by Ferdinando Bertoni.

One is immediately struck by the big, beautiful, richly and subtly shaded mezzo-soprano voice and its deep, dark colour. Its shades adapt masterfully to different emotional situations, ranging from heroism to painful nostalgia. It's a voice magnificently suited to "trouser roles" such as Orlando, (which was written for Lucia Lancett), possessing the necessary intensity for doing justice to pages such as "Nel profondo cieco mondo". Here, as in numerous passages in other pieces, Paparizou demonstrates a secure technique, both as far as breath support and voice emission are concerned, as well as a sound knowledge of florid singing: she endows the notes with the right weight the roulades with the required power.

In the Stabat Mater the soft, round sound suggests a profound religiosity, in which the theatricality demanded by the sacred music of the seventeenth century is rightly not omitted. In addition, special mention must be made of the very beautiful piece by Bertoni, in which Paparizou shows a consummate mastery of the art of phrasing and a real talent for finding the colours and timbre that evoke the right atmosphere. She does this without forcing and with an obvious knowledge of style, supported by a superb musicianship, cultivated with refined precision.

Source: Opera magazine, September 2012

"Vivaldi ma non solo" is the new cd by the Greek mezzo-soprano Marita Paparizou accompanied by the prestigious Solisti Veneti under the baton of the famous Maestro and musicologist Claudio Scimone.

"Oh no, yet another Vivaldi album..." one may wonder, yet he would be greatly mistaken, for this cd has merits of its own. For starters the repertoire, as the title of the cd suggests, is not just limited to Vivaldi but also to two of his "contemporaries" the great Handel and the lesser known Ferdinando Bertoni. Together they make good company for in this cd one can get a pretty good idea of Baroque music and its development.

Marita Paparizou has followed an International career with conductors such as Florio, Scimone, and many others not just in the baroque repertoire but in French opera, and Rossini as well, with notable success in operas such as "Semiramide", "Count Ory", "Italiana in Algeri" not to mention her successful Athens concert in which she handled with exceptional bravura the 20 minutes Rossini tour de force Cantata, sung for the first time in Greece, "Giovanna d'Arco".

The present recording contains an array of arias as diverse as "Gelido in ogni vena" from Vivaldi's "Farnace", to Bertoni's "Addio, o miei sospiri" from his "Tancredi", via Handel's "Moriró, ma vendicata", a bravura aria from "Teseo".

Added to all this, we are offered Vivaldi's "Stabat Mater" one of his most profound religious works. This very rendition is of exceptional quality. Maestro Scimone uses a revised edition based on original manuscripts and his refined and polished Orchestra offers us an enchanting account of the music. Marita Paparizou sings with a sense of deep religious fervor as if the very existence of her soul depends on it, with fine legato lines, and a sense of a deeper understanding of the music. Her deep dark toned voice suits the piece to perfection, as if Vivaldi had her in mind when composing it. It is by far one of the best recordings of Vivaldi's work in the International discography.

On a more mundane level, the arias from "Orlando furioso", a piece she has sung often in her carrier, serve as a vehicle for her accomplished vocal technique, not only as far as the vocal pyrotechnics and coloraturas are concerned, but also of her vocalita, and her ability to coin a phrase with power as well as sensitivity.

The lesser known "Gelido in ogni vena" from Vivaldi's "Farnace" is a real jewel, and is given a new breath of life from the voice of Mrs Paparizou. It is a perfect carrier for her voice, an aria in which she has the opportunity of showing her great dramatic talents.

Just listen to Handel's aria "Moriró, ma vendicata" which illustrates my point. Fiery coloraturas are followed by extreme changes of mood perfectly expressed by both the singer and the Orchestra. As a welcome bonus , which makes one wish for a new recording of this little jewel with Paparizou and Scimone, is the aria "Addio, o miei sospiri" by Ferdinando Bertoni from his "Tancredi", used however in his "Orfeo". Here the mood changes from anger to heroism, with Mrs Paparizou at her forte, closing one of the most enjoyable albums of the year.

Maestro Scimone proves to us once more what a great conductor he is, with his own orchestra the existence of which spans more than five decades, exponents of Vivaldi's music in the 60's and 70's, with the added bonus the presence of Piero Tosso one of the most important violinists. This record is a tribute not only to the composers it presents, but to a great tradition of baroque music making which bridges the past and the present. One can only hope that the same team will follow with a second album "Rossini ma non solo". Let's hope, for miracles do really happen when such great artists meet.

Source: Alexis Spanides, July 2017 (

Antonio Vivaldi: Orlando furioso, RV 728 (2 arias)

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

♪ Orlando furioso, RV 728 (1727)

i. Nel profondo cieco mondo

ii. Sorge l'irato nembo e la fatal tempesta

Marita Paparizou, mezzo-soprano

I Solisti Veneti

Conductor: Claudio Scimone

MD&G, 2012

(HD 1080p  Audio video)

Antonio Vivaldi: Stabat Mater, RV 621

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

♪ Stabat Mater, RV 621 (1712)

i. Stabat mater dolorosa
ii. Cujus animam gementem
iii. O quam tristis et afflicta
iv. Quis est homo
v. Quis non posset contristari
vi. Pro peccattis suae gentis
vii. Eia mater, fons amoris
viii. Fac ut ardeat cor meum
ix. Amen

Marita Paparizou, mezzo-soprano

I Solisti Veneti
Conductor: Claudio Scimone

MD&G, 2012

(HD 1080p  Audio video)

George Frideric Handel: Teseo, HWV 9, "Moriró, ma vendicata" | Antonio Vivaldi: Farnace, RV 711, "Gelido in ogni vena" | Ferdinando Bertoni: Orfeo ed Euridice, "Addio, o miei sospiri"

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
♪ Teseo, HWV 9: "Moriró, ma vendicata"

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
♪ Farnace, RV 711: "Gelido in ogni vena"

Ferdinando Bertoni (1725-1813)
♪ Orfeo ed Euridice: "Addio, o miei sospiri"

Marita Paparizou, mezzo-soprano

I Solisti Veneti
Conductor: Claudio Scimone

MD&G, 2012

(HD 1080p  Audio video)

Η διεθνούς φήμης Ελληνίδα μεσόφωνος Μαρίτα Παπαρίζου ερμηνεύει το αριστούργημα του Αντόνιο Βιβάλντι "Stabat Mater", καθώς επίσης και άριες από τις όπερες "Orlando furioso" και "Farnace" του Αντόνιο Βιβάλντι, "Teseo" του Γκέοργκ Φρήντριχ Χαίντελ, και "Orfeo ed Euridice" του Φερντινάντο Μπερτόνι. Το ιταλικό μουσικό σύνολο I Solisti Veneti διευθύνει ο έμπειρος Ιταλός αρχιμουσικός Κλαούντιο Σιμόνε.

Η μεσόφωνος Μαρίτα Παπαρίζου είναι μία από τις πιο ενδιαφέρουσες φωνές στο τρέχον οπερατικό στερέωμα, ήδη από τη διάρκεια των σπουδών της στο Ορφείο Ωδείο Αθηνών, όπου έλαμψε για το ασυνήθιστο δώρο της. Μετά το ντεμπούτο της στη Γένοβα, σε μια επιβλητική παρουσίαση της «Αριάδνης στη Νάξο» του Nicola Porpora, που ηχογραφήθηκε και κυκλοφορεί από την εταιρεία Bongiovanni, άρχισε διεθνή καριέρα και επικεντρώθηκε σε ένα ρεπερτόριο που κινείται από τον 17ο αιώνα έως τον Ροσσίνι και ακόμη πιο πέρα, όπου διακρίθηκε σε χαρακτήρες τόσο διαφορετικούς όπως η Ροζίνα, ο Ιζολιέ, ο Αρσάκης και η Ισαβέλλα του Ροσσίνι, ο Σμέτον στην «Άννα Μπολένα» του Ντονιτσέτι, αλλά και πάρτες του Βέρντι, όπως η Φενένα στο «Ναμπούκο» και η Μανταλένα στο «Ριγκολέττο», καθώς και σε άλλα έργα του 19ου αιώνα.

Η Μαρίτα Παπαρίζου ξεχωρίζει επίσης ως μια διακεκριμένη καλλιτέχνιδα συναυλιών, τόσο ορατορίου όσο και μουσικής δωματίου (da camera). Έχει εδαιώσει μια σημαντική θέση στο μπαρόκ ρεπερτόριο και έχει γίνει μια από τις σημαντικότερες ειδικούς του σήμερα.

Κάποιος εκπλήσσεται αμέσως από τη μεγάλη, όμορφη, πλούσια και ελαφρά σκιασμένη μέτζο-σοπράνο φωνή και από το βαθύ, σκούρο χρώμα της. Αποχρώσεις του προσαρμόζονται αριστοτεχνικά σε διαφορετικές συναισθηματικές καταστάσεις, που κυμαίνονται από τον ηρωισμό ως την επώδυνη νοσταλγία. Είναι μια θαυμάσια φωνή, που ταιριάζει σε «ρόλους παντελονιού», όπως ο Ορλάντο (ο οποίος γράφτηκε για τη Lucia Lancetti), οι οποίοι απαιτούν την απαραίτητη ένταση για να αποδοθούν σελίδες όπως αυτές της "Nel profondo cieco mondo". Εδώ, όπως και σε πολλά σημεία, σε άλλα κομμάτια, η Παπαρίζου δείχνει μιαν ασφαλή τεχνική όσον αφορά στην υποστήριξη της αναπνοής και την εκφορά της φωνής, καθώς και καλή γνώση του ύφους της μουσικής, μοιράζοντας σωστά το απαιτούμενο βάρος και την απαιτούμενη ισχύ.

Στο Stabat Mater, ο μαλακός, στρογγυλός ήχος υποδηλώνει μια βαθιά θρησκευτικότητα, στην οποία όμως δεν παραλείπεται η θεατρικότητα που απαιτείται από την εκκλησιαστική μουσική του 17ου αιώνα. Επιπλέον, ιδιαίτερη μνεία πρέπει να γίνει στην πολύ όμορφη άρια του Μπερτόνι, στην οποία η Παπαρίζου δείχνει μιαν άψογη γνώση της τέχνης του «φραζαρίσματος» και ένα πραγματικό ταλέντο στην απόδοση των χρωμάτων και του ηχοχρώματος που φέρνει στον νου τη σωστή ατμόσφαιρα. Το κάνει δε αυτό εντελώς ανεπιτήδευτα και με προφανή γνώση του στυλ, που υποστηρίζεται από μια εξαιρετική μουσικότητα η οποία έχει καλλιεργηθεί με εκλεπτυσμένη ακρίβεια.

Ιταλικό περιοδικό L'Opera, Σεπτέμβριος 2012

Η πρωταγωνίστρια του δίσκου είναι η Ελληνίδα μεσόφωνος Μαρίτα Παπαρίζου. Είναι βαθιά γνώστρια των στυλιστικών ιδιαιτεροτήτων του μπαρόκ, έχει μιαν όμορφη φωνή πλούσια σε χρώματα, κυριαρχεί στην κολορατούρα και έχει μια σαφή και ακριβή εκφορά. Ο δίσκος πρόκειται να αγαπηθεί από τους οπαδούς της παράδοσης αλλά δεν θα απογοητεύσει και τους οπαδούς του ιστορικισμού.

Mariano Acero Ruilópez (

Η Μαρίτα Παπαρίζου [...] έχει ένα δίσκο για τον οποίο πρέπει να είναι περήφανη, κάτι που ισχύει άλλωστε τόσο για το ιταλικό σύνολο των Solisti Veneti όσο και για τον μαέστρο και ιδρυτή τους Claudio Scimone (ο οποίος ας μην ξεχνάμε ότι ήταν μαθητής του Δημήτρη Μητρόπουλου). Ήδη από τη δεκαετία του εξήντα αγόραζα τους δίσκους του με την Erato και πίστευα ότι αυτός ο 77χρονος θρύλος θα είχε αποθηκεύσει τη μπαγκέτα του προ πολλού, κάτι που όμως είναι εντελώς αναληθές. Πράγματι, κρίνοντας από αυτό το CD, διευθύνει με την ίδια ζωντάνια και το ίδιο πνεύμα που τον διακατείχε πριν από μισό αιώνα, τότε που ξεκίνησε η τακτική της ιστορικής αναπαραγωγής των έργων, την οποία ποτέ δεν ακολούθησε. Πώς τα πάει όμως η Παπαρίζου σ' αυτό; Ακούστε μια φορά το 13ο κομμάτι, που τιτλοφορείται "Gelido in ogni vena" και θα βιώσετε τη μιαν έκπληξη μετά την άλλη. Καταιγιστική κολορατούρα και απαλό λεγκάτο πάνε χέρι χέρι, αλλά πέρα από την τεχνική εδώ μιλάμε για μια δραματική ερμηνεία, όχι απλά στη μουσική αλλά καθ' ολοκληρία. Η ερμηνεία της που αποδίδεται με όλη τη δύναμη της ψυχής της, υποστηρίζεται από τους τεχνικά άψογους Solisti Veneti, υπό την καθοδήγηση του Claudio Scinone – τόση δύναμη και τόσο πάθος ώστε το αποτέλεσμα συνεπαίρνει τον ακροατή. Πρόκειται πέραν πάσης αμφιβολίας για επαγγελματικό ακροβατισμό και όχι για ευτελή φωνητική επίδειξη. Ο Βιβάλντι έκανε τη ζωή των τραγουδιστών του και ιδίως αυτή των μεσοφώνων δύσκολη, αλλά αυτό είναι που κάνει τη μουσική του τόσο έντονη στις αισθήσεις μας. Όσο καλά κι αν είναι τα μετρήματα ή οι τεχνικές αναπνοής, καμιά φορά δεν είναι αρκετά σ' αυτό το ρεπερτόριο. Η ηχογράφηση αποτελεί από μόνη της ένα πολύτιμο πετράδι.

AArt van der Wal, Ιούλιος 2012 (

[...] Σε ένα πρόγραμμα τρομακτικής δυσκολίας, η Μαρίτα Παπαρίζου προκαλεί κάποιες φορές την προκάτοχό της Marylin Horne με μια κάποια ομοιότητα ως προς τον χρωματισμό της φωνής. Το σκούρο χρώμα συνδυάζεται με ρέουσα κολορατούρα, η τεχνική της – συμπαγής και στέρεη – μας θυμίζει στην άρια "Nel profondo cieco mondo" την απόγονο της Marylin Horne και συνεχίστρια της, Ewa Podleś. Στην άρια επίσης, "Sorge l'irato nembo" αγγίζει τα όριά της, με την καταστροφική ενέργεια να τη συνεπαίρνει. Ο Scimone προσφέρει στην ντίβα του ένα "Stabat Mater" με ρομαντικές αποχρώσεις, με tempi μεγάλης δυσκολίας. Στιγμές μαγικές και απόλυτης ενατένισης τα Cujus animam gementem και Quis non posset...

[...] Η Μαρίτα Παπαρίζου λάμπει στο "Addio, o miei sospiri", που έχει πρωτοακουστεί στον "Tancredi" του Μπερτόνι και ανακυκλώθηκε στον "Orfeo" του Γκλουκ. Επικίνδυνοι βοκαλισμοί στο όριο των ανθρώπινων δυνατοτήτων, πάθος και ένας Scimone σεβάσμιος.

Roger Claude Travers (Diapason, τεύχος Σεπτεμβρίου 2012)

I Solisti Veneti & Claudio Scimone

See also

Μαρίτα Παπαρίζου – Αποκλειστική συνέντευξη (Marita Paparizou – Exclusive interview, in Greek)

Monday, December 25, 2017

The King's Singers: Christmas Songbook (Audio video)

It has been ten years since The King's Singers' last full-production Christmas album, called simply "Christmas". That album was quite traditional in style, bringing together a number of contemporary and traditional carols and giving the feel of an Advent or Christmas carol service. It continues to be popular amongst audiences around the world, but more and more often we have been asked when the next Christmas offering would surface. That time has now come.

Having completed "The Great American Songbook" project a few years ago, the group started to look at a Christmas equivalent. We looked at the seasonal songs performed by The Rat Pack and their contemporaries, and found many that we loved, but decided to draw up a balanced track list to include popular carols as well as jazz songs. With The King's Singers' 50th Anniversary approaching, as well as the 100th Anniversary of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge – the spiritual home of the group – the result is a disc that pays homage to our roots whilst acknowledging our current penchant for swing.

Traditional favourites such as In the bleak mid-winter and the beautiful Austrian carol Still, still, still, jockey for position amongst modern-day classics like Winter Wonderland, Frosty the Snowman and Sleigh ride. All are presented in new arrangements by some of our favourite arrangers: Robert Rice, Keith Roberts and Alexander L'Estrange. All in all, the perfect soundtrack to your Christmas Holiday, whatever the weather!

The King's Singers, 2016

The King's Singers: Christmas Songbook

1. John Frederick Coots (1897-1985), Arr. Alexander L'Estrange (b. 1974): Santa Claus is coming to town
2. Gustav Holst (1874-1934), Arr. Alexander L'Estrange: In the bleak midwinter
3. Robert Meredith Willson (1902-1984), Arr. Alexander L'Estrange: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
4. Traditional, Arr. Alexander L'Estrange: Still, still, still
5. Peter J. Wilhousky (1902-1978), Arr. Keith Roberts: Carol of the bells
6. Richard Storrs Willis (1819-1900), Arr. Robert Rice (b. 1971): It came upon the midnight clear
7. Walter Rollins (1906-1973), Steve Nelson (1907-1981) & Johnny Marks (1909-1985), Arr. Robert Rice: Frosty vs. Rudolph: The Re-boot
8. Irving Berlin (1888-1989), Arr. Robert Rice: White Christmas
9. Traditional, Arr. Robert Rice: Ding dong! Merrily on high
10. Traditional, Arr. Robert Rice: The First Nowell
11. Mitchell Parrish (1900-1993), Arr. Alexander L'Estrange: Sleigh ride
12. Michael Carr (1905-1968), Tommie Connor (1904-1993) & Jimmy Leach (1905-1975), Arr. Alexander L'Estrange: The little boy that Santa Claus forgot
13. Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863), Arr. Keith Roberts: Silent night
14. Felix Bernard (1897-1944), Arr. Alexander L'Estrange: Winter Wonderland
15. Hugh Martin (1914-2011), Arr. Keith Roberts: Have yourself a merry little Christmas
16. Traditional, Arr. Alexander L'Estrange: We wish you a merry Christmas

The King's Singers:
David Hurley, countertenor
Timothy Wayne-Wright, countertenor
Julian Gregory, tenor
Christopher Bruerton, baritone
Christopher Gabbitas, baritone
Jonathan Howard, bass

Recorded in Dennington Studios, Wellingborough, UK from 21-22, 25-26 January and 22-23 March 2016

Signum Classics 2016

(HD 1080p – Audio video)

Photo by Chris O'Donovan

See also

Christmas with the Faces of Classical Music

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas!

Faces of Classical Music
wish you a
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The King's Singers: Christmas Presence (Audio video)

This new programme of "seasonal favourites" from The King's Singers takes us from the austere beauty of medieval plainsong right up to the present day and was recorded live in King's College Chapel, the group's spiritual home.

The essence of The King's Singers has always been live performance. Commercial recordings are hugely important as a way of disseminating our material, and the group has always been committed to a comprehensive recording programme, but for us the best of both worlds is represented on this disc: a live concert recording.

Christmas Presence gives the listener the experience of being at a live King's Singers concert, in one of the world's most beautiful buildings (and acoustics!) from the comfort of their own home. You can be assured that there is nothing here other than what we produced on the night itself; and what better a season to celebrate with music than Christmas?

The King's Singers

The King's Singers: Christmas Presence

1. Traditional: Hodie Christus natus est
2. Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594): Resonet in laudibus
3. Michael Praetorius (1571-1621): Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen
4. William Byrd (c.1540-1623): Beata viscera
5. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621): Hodie Christus natus est
6. Francis Poulenc (1899-1963): O magnum mysterium
7. Francis Poulenc: Quem vidistis pastores dicite
8. Francis Poulenc: Hodie Christus natus est
9. Herbert Howells (1892-1983): A Spotless Rose
10. Herbert Howells: Here is the little door
11. Herbert Howells: Sing lullaby
12. Clive Smith (b. 1950): I saw three ships
13. Traditional, Arr. Geoffrey Keating: God rest you merry, gentlemen
14. Ariel Ramirez (1921-2010), Arr. Peter Knight: La peregrinación
15. Melvin Howard Tormé (1925-1999) & Robert Wells (1922-1998), Arr. Peter Knight: Christmas song
16. Traditional, Arr. Alexander L'Estrange: Still, still, still
17. James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893), Arr. Gordon Langford: Jingle bells
18. Bob Chilcott (b. 1955): A Thanksgiving

The King's Singers:
David Hurley, countertenor
Timothy Wayne-Wright, countertenor
Julian Gregory, tenor
Christopher Bruerton, baritone
Christopher Gabbitas, baritone
Jonathan Howard, bass

National Youth Choir of Great Britain

Recorded live in the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, on December 4, 2015

Signum Classics 2017

(HD 1080p – Audio video)

See also

Christmas with the Faces of Classical Music

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas! Noël! Weihnachten! – RIAS Kammerchor, Hans-Christoph Rademann (Audio video)

In 1839 the Hamburg theologian and pedagogue Johann Hinrich Wichern had an epoch-making idea. Because the children of an orphanage he had founded kept asking him when it would be Christmas at last, he mounted nineteen small red candles and four big white ones on a wagon wheel. The Advent Wreath was born. Not only does this invention, as simple as it is profound, make it possible to visualise the Advent season as a time of increasing illumination; moreover, the circle of lights that ends up fully closed expresses the course of the Christmas story itself: starting from a certain gloom, more and more characters and events gradually appear before us. Each element is significant in itself, but it is only when we take in the overall picture that the Christmas message is conveyed in all its fullness and clarity – just as a closed circle expresses perfection.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (c.1472-1553), Nativity, c.1520
Three hundred years before that date, in 1520 to be precise, Lucas Cranach the Elder painted the picture known as "The Nativity". It is fascinating how this masterpiece corresponds to the idea of the Advent Wreath. The individual motifs form a perfect unity. Viewers are invited to let their eyes wander over it, to devote their attention to a detail, to linger over an idea, so that in the end they have explored the Christmas message as a whole. And many people will find that their eyes have made a circular motion. This CD by the RIAS Kammerchor is called "Christmas". All the subtlety of its arrangement of works lies in the fact that this simple title conceals that same profound intellectual and spiritual process whereby the image of Christmas itself emerges from a circular movement of eyes and mind. The hymns and motets – from the straightforward chorale to the most ambitious compositions – create a tableau very much akin to Lucas Cranach's painting.

The frame. Felix Mendelssohn's motet Frohlocket ihr Völker auf Erden forms the programmatic opening and sets out the elaborate, glittering frame within which the picture will subsequently take shape. Switching between eight-part and bichoral textures, Mendelssohn generates a thoroughly Christmassy splendour, evoking brass instruments, in the second of the Sechs Sprüche zum Kirchenjahr (Six anthems for the church year) Op.79. The frame is in place – now for the picture.

Night and light. Night is the defining mood of the Christmas season. It creates an aura of possibility, and is the moment when wishes and dreams are formulated. At the same time it is a symbol of uncertainty and affliction. Night is literally and symbolically the background against which Christmas can be fulfilled as the coming of light. And the constant recurrence of night reminds us that light must be won again and again.

Four works explore the night that precedes Christmas in all its shadings, allowing some isolated lights to flare up. The hymn Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen appears here in a setting by Uwe Gronostay, who was principal conductor of the RIAS Kammerchor for many years. In a style of tempered modernism, Gronostay builds around the chorale melody in the bass layers of sound that give the work as a whole a pensive, introverted character. Only occasionally does the joy of Christmas appear in melismas. In this somewhat subdued dimension, Gronostay was perhaps paying tribute to the genesis of the hymn. Jochen Klepper wrote its words on 18 December 1937. In this context, night is also a complex symbol of the ascendant Nazi regime that threatened Klepper himself. And the promised light becomes an existential longing for redemption and liberation. Klepper's wife was Jewish, and he steadfastly refused to dissolve the marriage. In December 1942, the couple committed suicide. The early Baroque counterpart to this modern Christmas hymn was written by Johann Eccard, who depicted the contrast of darkness and light, laden with rich promise, in music of artful simplicity in Ich lag in tiefer Todesnacht.

The Romantic era was the age of subjectivity and exploration of inner emotional worlds and the landscapes of the soul. With its sensuous sonorities, its rich colours, and its eminently Romantic arcs of tension, Max Bruch's In der Christnacht presents the festival of Christmas as a way of overcoming one's own inner darkness. Bruch had two explicit models: Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms. The latter's well-known variations on O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf not only make subtle aesthetic and biographical connections with Praetorius, Mendelssohn, and Bruch, but also let us see the (night) sky in a new perspective. With an almost madrigalian diversity of forms, Brahms achieves a vivid portrayal of the various natural phenomena, colours, and metaphors of the Baroque Advent hymn.

Departure. Brahms's exuberant, ecstatic final fugue introduces a new notion into the Christmas picture: from the idea of and longing for the coming of light emerges the injunction to become active ourselves, to follow the Christmas message or help to spread it. There is scarcely another group of protagonists of the Nativity story that better embodies this departure, this dynamism, than the shepherds. The five-part Nun liebe Seel, nun ist es Zeit by the early Baroque master Johann Eccard is situated on the spiritual and symbolic horizon of the shepherds. On the one hand, it sings of an urge and a certain joyful restlessness at the prospect of darkness being overcome. Now the watchword has become "It is high time". On the other hand, that wish will be granted after all temporality has been suspended: "That thy countenance / And thy splendid light / We may ever behold".

Mary. Just as contemplation of the Virgin Mary leads to the heart of the Nativity, so Hans-Christoph Rademann and the RIAS Kammerchor place the Mother of God in their picture in a wide array of colours and forms. The manifold ways in which she is portrayed and venerated here range from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, from moving (in both senses) chorales to modern soundscapes whose meditative character seems to still all movement. Common to all six works in this section of the picture is their permeation by a quasi-mystical sense of wonder. The connection between the image of the departing shepherds and the kneeling Virgin is made by Johann Eccard in the well-nigh classic chorale setting Übers Gebirg Maria geht. Arvo Pärt has developed the beauty of the archaic into a personal style respected the world over. Inherent in his Magnificat is the possibility of retracing the mystery of Jesus' birth in emotional terms. While Pärt's music expands in space, Anton Bruckner can be viewed as an architect in sound who erected in his compositions sacred edifices as sublime as they are delicate. Similarly founded on Catholicism, yet fascinating in the way it seems to float free of all foundations, is the music of Francis Poulenc. His musical contemplation of the Mother of God is based on a nearly thousand-year-old text that he set in 1941, in a form in which the desire for Messianic salvation from the present too seems constantly to resonate.

Rejoicing and consummation. The idea of a prayerful Mary, gracious and delicate, is coupled in the world of Christmas emotions and imagery with another, quite different topos, namely a boundless jubilation, often based on rhythms that can be assimilated with the movement of rocking a newborn child. Here it is Michael Praetorius and Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck who give the signal for joy to be unconfined. Night and light, departure and arrival, calm grace and almost childlike joy come together in this recording to produce a comprehensive picture that strikes our ears as a kind of painting in sound. Our contemplation of it comes to an end with the famous In dulci jubilo, in which the Christmas message "shines like the sun". And it also blossoms like a rose – until finally in Praetorius's Es ist ein Ros entsprungen the brightness has driven away "all darkness".

Reflection. In a sense, Francis Poulenc's Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël appear as an intellectual and emotional echo of this exploration of musical iconography. In the context of this "concept album", they offer a kind of compendium of all those aspects, emotions and facets that go to make Christmas what it is. And when, at the end, Stille Nacht is sung, it is a night now transformed, which, stripped of all its menace, has become a trusted place of arrival.

Oliver Geisler

[The video was removed for "copyright reasons"]

Christmas! Noël! Weihnachten!

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847)
1. Frohlocket, ihr Völker auf Erden, Op.79/1

Uwe Gronostay (1939-2008)
2. Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen

Johann Eccard (1553-1611)
3. Ich lag in tiefster Todesnacht

Max Bruch (1838-1920)
4. In der Christnacht, Op.60/1

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
5. O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf, Op.74/2

Johann Eccard
6. Nun liebe Seel, nun ist es Zeit
7. Über's Gebirg Maria geht

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)
8. Magnificat

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
9. Ave Maria
10. Virga Jesse

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
11. Salve Regina

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
12. Ave maris stella

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621)
13. Hodie Christus natus est

Michael Praetorius (1571-1621)
14. In dulci jubilo
15. Es ist ein Ros entsprungen

Francis Poulenc
Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël
16. i. O magnum mysterium
17. ii. Quem vidistis pastores dicite
18. iii. Videntes stellam
19. iv. Hodie Christus natus est

Eusebius Mandyczewski (1857-1929)
20. Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

RIAS Kammerchor
Direction: Hans-Christoph Rademann

Cover: Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572), The Adoration of the Shepherds (detail), c.1538

Recorded in January 2013 at Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem

harmonia mundi 2013

(HD 1080p – Audio video)

RIAS Kammerchor (Photo by Matthias Heyde)

Founded in 1948 under the auspices of "Radio in the American Sector", the RIAS Kammerchor played an important role in the revival of post-war musical life in Berlin. The core of its repertoire is the music of the Baroque era, together with the modern classics and the music of today. It swiftly acquired an international reputation for premiering new works by such composers as Penderecki, Reimann, Kagel, Gundermann, and Tan Dun.

After Uwe Gronostay, Marcus Creed, and Daniel Reuss, Hans-Christoph Rademann has directed the ensemble since 2007, in close collaboration with Concerto Köln, the Freiburger Barockorchester, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, and the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, and such conductors as Frans Brüggen, Roger Norrington, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, René Jacobs, and Philippe Herreweghe. Since 1994 the RIAS Kammerchor has been a member of the ROC (radio orchestras and choirs), supported by Deutschlandradio, the German federal government, the state of Berlin, and Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg.

Hans-Christoph Rademann
(Photo by Matthias Heyde)
Since the 2007-2008 season Hans-Christoph Rademann has been chief conductor of the RIAS Kammerchor. He grew up in a family of Kantors, and during his training as a choral and orchestral conductor at the Musikhochschule in Dresden he already founded the Dresdner Kammerchor, with which he made a reputation both in Germany and abroad, and which he still directs today. Concert tours have taken Hans-Christoph Rademann to the main international musical centres.

A key element in his activities is early music, and especially the musical history of Dresden. As a result he has given many modern premieres of works by Zelenka, Hasse, and Heinichen, which were also successfully released on CD. In the field of contemporary music he launched a composition contest in 2006.

In 2000 Hans-Christoph Rademann was appointed professor of choral conducting at the Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber in Dresden. Since the summer of 2013 he has also been director of the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart.

Texts and photos: CD Booklet

See also

Christmas with the Faces of Classical Music

Friday, December 15, 2017

Frédéric Chopin: Piano Concertos No.2 in F minor & No.1 in E minor – Daniil Trifonov, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Mikhail Pletnev

Russian concert pianist and composer Daniil Trifonov plays Frédéric Chopin's Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21, and Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11. Mahler Chamber Orchestra conducted by Mikhail Pletnev. Recorded at the Konzerthaus Dortmund, on April 30, 2017.

The Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin was actually composed before his Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor. The F minor was begun in autumn 1829 and premiered on March, 3, 1830, while the E minor was begun shortly after the premiere of the F minor. The F minor is a less popular and more derivative work than the E minor; there is the sense that Chopin, having heard the F minor, decided to move beyond his models.

The opening Maestoso movement of the F minor is clearly modeled on the concertos of Mozart's pupil, Hummel. The central Larghetto is based almost literally on the Piano Concerto in G minor composed in 1820 by Ignaz Moscheles and the closing Allegro vivace is the most original movement of the three, a stylized Polish folk song. Within the movements, all the standard concerto principles are obeyed: an orchestra exposition of the main themes before a piano exposition of the same material, the usual contrast between the tonic minor and the relative major for the principal and subordinate themes, a lyrical slow movement in the relative minor, and a rondo-form finale in the tonic major.

While Chopin's piano writing is idiomatic and highly personal – the lyrical melodies and their ornamentations could have been composed by no one else – his orchestral writing is at best competent. This, however, is less a fault than a decision: Chopin, the greatest composer for the piano of his age, would never let anything obscure the brilliance of his piano writing.

Source: James Leonard (

Famously, Chopin's Second Piano Concerto was written before the First. No.1 in E minor Op.11 is so designated simply because it was the first of the two to be published (1833). It is easy to think of these works as standing in isolation, without contemporary equivalents. However, thanks to the availability of recordings, the listening public can now more easily appreciate that the concertos of Hummel, Field, Weber and Moscheles in particular – and to a lesser extent Kalkbrenner, Herz and Ries – provided models for Chopin's. Indeed, some of the thematic materials of Hummel's A minor Concerto are strikingly similar to those of the E minor Concerto.

Op.11 has a lengthy orchestral exposition (twice as long as that of Op.21) marked Allegro maestoso. The touching second subject is archetypal Chopin and its first appearance a moment of exquisite beauty. The second movement, labelled Romanza, consists of a yearning nocturne-like theme in E major contrasted with a second subject in B major. He was still working on the Concerto when he wrote a letter dated 15 May 1830 in which he described his thoughts about this movement. It is one of the rare occasions that he made any allusion to the programme behind the music: "It is not meant to be loud, it's more of a romance, quiet, melancholy; it should give the impression of gazing tenderly at a place which brings to mind a thousand dear memories. It is a sort of meditation in beautiful spring weather, but by moonlight. That is why I have muted the accompaniment". The final movement (Vivace) is a lively rondo with some resemblance to the krakowiak, a popular Polish folk dance. Despite the Concerto's key signature, it is, like the Romanza, written in the key of E major. Chopin was the soloist in the first performance, heard privately on 22 September 1830, and again in the work's public premiere in Warsaw Town Hall on 11 October. It was the last concert he gave before leaving Poland for good.

Source: Jeremy Nicholas, 2008 (

[The video is unavailable]

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

♪ Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21 (1829-1830) [00:52]*

i. Maestoso
ii. Larghetto
iii. Allegro vivace

♪ Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11 (1830) [37:41]

i. Allegro maestoso
ii. Larghetto
iii. Rondo: Vivace


Frédéric Chopin
♪ Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op. posth. 66 (1834) [1:22:17]

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
♪ Carnaval Op.9, No.12 "Chopin" (1834-1835) [1:28.58]

Daniil Trifonov, piano

Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Mikhail Pletnev

Konzerthaus Dortmund, April 30, 2017

(HD 720p)

* Start time of each work

Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov has made a spectacular ascent in the world of classical music as a solo artist, a champion of the concerto repertoire, a collaborator at the keyboard in chamber music and song, and a composer. Combining consummate technique with rare sensitivity and depth, his performances are a perpetual source of awe. "He has everything and more... tenderness and also the demonic element. I never heard anything like that", marveled pianist Martha Argerich, while the Times (UK) has named Trifonov "without question the most astounding pianist of our age".

Focusing on Chopin in the 2017-2018 season, he releases Chopin Evocations, his fourth album as an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist, which includes both works by Chopin himself and, marking Trifonov's first foray into a new repertoire, works of 20th-century composers who were greatly influenced by the Polish master, including Samuel Barber, Federico Mompou and others.

Trifonov gives over 20 recitals on the same theme across the U.S., Europe and Asia this season, including one in Carnegie Hall as part of a seven-concert, season-long Perspectives series which he curates. Three of the seven concerts are devoted to Chopin and his influence: the solo recital and two all-Chopin programs with cellist Gautier Capuçon and the Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra. Further concerts in the series include collaborations with baritone Matthias Goerne and Trifonov's teacher and mentor Sergei Babayan, the latter capping a U.S. tour that includes the world premiere of a Carnegie-commissioned work for two pianos by Mauro Lanza; a performance of his own piano concerto with longtime collaborator Valery Gergiev leading the Mariinsky Orchestra, again culminating a U.S. tour; and finally a solo recital in Zankel Hall that includes a seminal piece from each decade of the 20th century. Trifonov curates a similar series of recitals and orchestral appearances this season at the Vienna Konzerthaus, where he gives five performances, and in San Francisco, concluding with a season-closing Rachmaninov performance with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson-Thomas.

Trifonov's season contains much else as well. He tours Asia in the fall with a combination of recitals and orchestral performances, and goes on European tours with violinist Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica, the London Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Teatro alla Scala Orchestra. Other orchestral appearances include Strauss' Burleske with the Spanish National Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; the Schumann Concerto with Lisbon's Gulbenkian Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic; Prokofiev with the Mariinsky Orchestra led by Gergiev, and the Cleveland Orchestra led by Michael Tilson Thomas; Scriabin's Piano Concerto with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot; a performance of his own piano concerto with the Detroit Symphony; and further Rachmaninov performances with Gergiev and the Munich Philharmonic, the Toronto Symphony led by Peter Oundjian, and the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

The 2016-2017 season brought the release of Transcendental, a double album that represented Trifonov's third title as an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist and the first time Liszt's complete concert etudes had been recorded for the label in full. In concert, the pianist – winner of Gramophone's 2016 Artist of the Year award – played Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto under Riccardo Muti in the historic gala finale of the Chicago Symphony's 125th anniversary celebrations. Having scored his second Grammy Award nomination with Rachmaninov Variations, he performed Rachmaninov for his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle at the orchestra's famous New Year's Eve concert, aired live in cinemas throughout Europe. Also with Rachmaninov, he made debuts with the Melbourne and Sydney Symphonies, returned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and headlined the Munich Philharmonic's "Rachmaninov Cycle" tour with Gergiev. Mozart was the vehicle for his reengagements with the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as for dates with the Staatskapelle Dresden at home and at the Salzburg Festival and London's BBC Proms. He rejoined the Staatskapelle for Ravel, besides playing Beethoven with Zurich's Tonhalle Orchestra; Prokofiev with the Rotterdam Philharmonic; Chopin on tour with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra; and Schumann with the Houston Symphony, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, and on tour with Riccardo Chailly and the Teatro alla Scala Orchestra. With a new recital program of Schumann, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky, Trifonov made recital debuts at London's Barbican and Melbourne's Recital Centre; appeared in Berlin, Vienna, Florence, Madrid, Oslo, Moscow, and other European hotspots; and returned to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and – for the fourth consecutive year – the mainstage of New York's Carnegie Hall. He also returned to the Tanglewood, Verbier, Baden-Baden, and Salzburg Festivals.

Other highlights of recent seasons include complete Rachmaninov concerto cycles at the New York Philharmonic's Rachmaninov Festival and with London's Philharmonia Orchestra; debuts with the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Montreal Symphony, Rome's Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, London's Royal Philharmonic and BBC Proms, the Berlin Staatskapelle, and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, where he headlined the prestigious Nobel Prize Concert; and an Asian tour with the Czech Philharmonic. Since making solo recital debuts at Carnegie Hall, London's Wigmore Hall, Vienna's Musikverein, Japan's Suntory Hall, and the Salle Pleyel in Paris in 2012-2013, Trifonov has given solo recitals at venues including the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Boston's Celebrity Series, London's Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth halls, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw (Master Piano Series), Berlin's Philharmonie (the Kammermusiksaal), Munich's Herkulessaal, Bavaria's Schloss Elmau, Zurich's Tonhalle, the Lucerne Piano Festival, the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, the Théâtre des Champs Élysées and Auditorium du Louvre in Paris, Barcelona's Palau de la Musica, Tokyo's Opera City, and the Seoul Arts Center.

The 2013-2014 season saw the release of Trifonov: The Carnegie Recital, the pianist's first recording as an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist; captured live at his sold-out 2013 Carnegie Hall recital debut, the album scored both an ECHO Klassik Award and a Grammy nomination. Besides the similarly Grammy-nominated Rachmaninov Variations, recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, his discography also features a Chopin album for Decca and a recording of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto with Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra on the ensemble's own label.

It was during the 2010-2011 season that Trifonov won medals at three of the music world's most prestigious competitions, taking Third Prize in Warsaw's Chopin Competition, First Prize in Tel Aviv's Rubinstein Competition, and both First Prize and Grand Prix – an additional honor bestowed on the best overall competitor in any category – in Moscow's Tchaikovsky Competition. In 2013 he was also awarded the prestigious Franco Abbiati Prize for Best Instrumental Soloist by Italy's foremost music critics.

Born in Nizhny Novgorod in 1991, Trifonov began his musical training at the age of five, and went on to attend Moscow's Gnessin School of Music as a student of Tatiana Zelikman, before pursuing his piano studies with Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He has also studied composition, and continues to write for piano, chamber ensemble, and orchestra. When he premiered his own piano concerto in 2013, the Cleveland Plain Dealer marveled: "Even having seen it, one cannot quite believe it. Such is the artistry of pianist-composer Daniil Trifonov".


More photos

See also

Johannes Brahms: Chaconne in D minor for the Left Hand (after Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita for Solo Violin No.2, BWV 1004) – Daniil Trifonov (HD 1080p)

Franz Schubert: Piano Sonata No.18 in G major "Fantasy" – Daniil Trifonov

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No.23 in A major – Daniil Trifonov, Israel Camerata Jerusalem, Avner Biron

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Christmas Story – Theatre of Voices, Ars Nova Copenhagen, Paul Hillier (Audio video)

The story of Christmas begins deep in the past, four thousand winters before the birth of Jesus. In the Garden of Eden, the Devil takes the form of a serpent and tempts Eve to eat an apple from the Tree of Knowledge. She persuades Adam to do likewise. After this Fall from grace, Mankind long awaits the birth of a saviour who can redeem them from their sinful condition.

A boy is born in Bethlehem. We contemplate the strange mystery of God born as a baby and lying in a manger out in the stable among the oxen, cattle, and donkeys.

Meanwhile, an angel appears to shepherds tending their flocks out on the hills, and tells them to go into Bethlehem where they should find and worship the baby Jesus.

Three kings from the East travel over hills and mountains, bearing gifts for the newborn child; a star guides them to Bethlehem. Herod learns that a baby has been born who will become "king" of the Jews. He orders the slaughter of all newborn Jewish male children. The angel Gabriel warns Joseph to take Mary and the child and flee from Herod's men.

Two further incidents are described. While still pregnant Mary went over the mountain to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who though old in years is also pregnant (with St John the Baptist). Mary sings the words we call the Magnificat.

In Jerusalem there is a devout old man called Simeon, to whom the Holy Spirit has revealed that he will not die before seeing Christ. While Jesus is still an infant, Mary brings him for presentation in the temple in Jerusalem. Simeon is there and recognises the Son of God and sings the words we call the Nunc Dimittis.

Although most of the music supports the narrative in one way or another, some pieces were chosen specifically for that purpose, particularly the three Baroque dialogues and the various short portions of plainchant. The three concluding items are more general in their mood, two of them reminding us more of the carol-singing tradition than the events behind it, while Gade's lovely Nativity song is a setting of words by Hans Christian Andersen – Denmark's master story-teller.

The dialogues are all drawn from the seventeenth-century Italian repertoire of works which form the nascent "oratorio", where the main purpose is to offer religious inspiration and instruction by telling a story. They are performed by a small group of singers (with continuo accompaniment) who take individual roles, but also at various moments join together as a chorus to introduce or comment upon the narrative. Eventually oratorio became something much larger in scale: Handel's Messiah, the Bach Passions, and many substantial works over the next two centuries for soloists, choir, and orchestra. But in the early seventeenth century oratorio was still essentially devotional chamber music performed (particularly in Rome) at buildings reserved for prayer meetings – themselves called "oratorios".

Sometimes these pieces have special performance directions. In Tomasi's Dum deambularet the Voice of God is marked "to be sung from a hidden position up above the others", and Adam is to be sung "somewhat" hidden. And in Grandi's Missus est Gabriel the duo of heavenly voices is marked "distant and hidden". We have attempted to suggest some of this acoustic choreography in our performances.

I have included a few motets (Byrd, Eccard) and later compositions (Hopkins, Gade, Skempton). Otherwise the carols are drawn primarily from folk traditions in England and the Alpine region on both the German and Italian sides, or are arrangements of venerable melodies such In dulci jubilo, Es ist ein Ros, Personent Hodie.

Finally, I append a favourite poem by my local poet, Thomas Hardy. (I was born and grew up in his "Casterbridge".) Hardy knew all about carols and carol-singing, as we can read in his novel Under the Greenwood Tree and in the numerous other poems and prose sketches of the quasi-Shakespearean rustics in his Mellstock Choir. In The Oxen he evokes those childhood certainties that sometimes resonate down through the years and continue to hold us in thrall – or, as he says, in hope.

Source: Paul Hillier (CD Booklet)

The Christmas Story
told in chant, motets, dialogues & traditional folk carols


1. Rorate coeli desuper – Plainchant

2. Veni veni Emanuel – arranged Paul Hillier
3. Es ist ein Ros entsprungen – arranged Paul Hillier
[1-3: Ars Nova Copenhagen]

4. Dum deambularet Dominus in Paradisum – Biasio Tomasi (fl. 1611)

Dialogue: The garden of Eden: God, Adam and Eve, and the serpent
[Theatre of Voices]

5. Adam lay y-bounden – Howard Skempton (b. 1947)

6. In dulci iubilo – arranged R. L. Pearsall (1795-1856)
[5-6: Ars Nova Copenhagen]


7. Missus est Gabriel – Alessandro Grandi (1586-1630)

Dialogue: the Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will bear a child
[Theatre of Voices]


8. Puer natus est – Plainchant

9. O magnum mysterium – William Byrd (c.1540-1623)
[8-9: Ars Nova Copenhagen]

10. Voi ch'ai notturni rai – Giovanni Francesco Anerio (1567-1630)

A pastoral dialogue: The shepherds go to worship the infant Christ
[Theatre of Voices]

11. Dormi, dormi, o bel bambin – arranged Paul Hillier

12. Liebe Hirten – arranged Paul Hillier
13. Andachtsjodler – arranged Paul Hillier
[11-13: Ars Nova Copenhagen]


14. We three kings – J. H. Hopkins (1820-1891)

[Theatre of Voices]

15. Videntes stellam – Plainchant

16. Personent hodie – arranged Paul Hillier
[15-16: Ars Nova Copenhagen]


17. Herodes iratus – Plainchant

18. Vox in Rama – Plainchant
[17-18: Ars Nova Copenhagen]


19. Uebers Gebirg – Johann Eccard (1553-1611)

20. Maria wallt zum Heiligtum – Johann Eccard (1553-1611)
21. The holly and the ivy – arranged Paul Hillier
22. Barn Jesus i en krybbe lå – Niels Gade (1817-1890)
23. We wish you a merry Christmas – arranged Paul Hillier
[19-23: Ars Nova Copenhagen]

Theatre of Voices, Ars Nova Copenhagen

Conductor: Paul Hillier

Cover: Albert Herbert, Mary in the stable, 1991

Recorded in January 2011 at Garnisons Kirk, Copenhagen, Denmark

harmonia mundi 2011

(HD 1080p – Audio video)

Ars Nova Copenhagen (Photo by Magnus Skrede)

The idea behind this recording was shaped by the English tradition of Nine Lessons and Carols. Like the story of Christmas itself, this tradition had humble beginnings. A thousand years ago, Cornwall (in the southwest of England) was joined to the Diocese of Devon under the Bishop of Exeter. It was only many centuries later – in 1877 – that it was finally given its own diocese once again, this time at Truro. A new cathedral was immediately planned, but while it was being built services had to be held in a temporary wooden building – often referred to as a "hut", but large enough to hold 400 parishioners. This is where, on Christmas Eve 1880, the first service of "Nine Lessons and Carols" was given and, unwittingly perhaps, a new tradition was created.

The service was designed by the Bishop of Truro, E. W. Benson. In the words of his son, the writer A. C. Benson: "My father arranged from ancient sources a little service for Christmas Eve – nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the Church, beginning with a chorister, and ending, through the different grades, with the Bishop". In 1918 the service was adopted at King's College Cambridge by the Dean, Eric Milner-White. In 1928 it was first broadcast by the BBC and it has now become one of the fixtures of Christmas broadcasting around the world.

I have lived in Denmark for nearly ten years. It is a country with a strong sense of tradition beneath the sophisticated veneer of its relaxed modernity, and this manifests itself strongly at the solstices. At midwinter the intense darkness, the crisp cold, and the Danes' addiction to candlelight have made me nostalgic for the Christmas services of my youth. So with Ars Nova Copenhagen we started in 2008 to present our own version of the service – usually as a concert programme in churches rather than as part of the liturgy. It proved very popular and has become part of our annual season. Sometimes the singers give the readings (in Danish, naturally, though some of them have Swedish or Norwegian accents), and sometimes they are given by members of the community. All agree that the music gains an extra dimension by being folded into the spoken narrative, especially when the readings are shared among audience and performers alike. I then thought of making a recording that would include the readings. But in which language (or languages) should they be given? Rejecting the idea of a mixture of many languages (attractive to me, but perhaps not to all) I looked instead for pieces of music that would go some way towards filling out the narrative in a suitable fashion. The following synopsis is drawn from the readings that form part of our presentation. Those familiar with the King's College tradition will notice close resemblances, but also differences – in the latter part especially.

Source: Paul Hillier (CD Booklet)

Paul Hillier (Photo by Magnus Skrede)
The Grammy-award winning ensemble Theatre of Voices was founded by Paul Hillier in 1990. Current projects include music ranging from Dowland, Carissimi, Buxtehude and Bach, to many of today's most eminent composers such as Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, John Cage, Pelle Gudmundsen Holmgreen, and David Lang.

Paul Hillier is from Dorset in England and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. His career has embraced singing, conducting, and writing about music. Earlier in his career he was founding director of the Hilliard Ensemble, and subsequently founded Theatre of Voices. He has taught in the USA at the University of California campuses at Santa Cruz and Davis, and from 1996-2003 was Director of the Early Music Institute at Indiana University. He was Principal Conductor of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (2001-2007) and has been Chief Conductor of Ars Nova Copenhagen since 2003. His recordings, over a hundred CDs including seven solo recitals, have earned worldwide acclaim and won numerous prizes. His books about Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich, together with numerous anthologies of choral music, are published by Oxford University Press. In 2006 he was awarded an OBE for services to choral music. In 2007 he received the Order of the White Star of Estonia, and was awarded a Grammy for Best Choral Recording. In 2008 he took up the position of Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the National Chamber Choir of Ireland, and in 2009 was invited to form the new Coro Casa da Musica in Porto, Portugal. In 2010 he won a second Grammy (this time in the small ensemble category), for Theatre of Voices' recording of David Lang's "The Little Match Girl Passion" (which also won a Pulitzer Prize).

Ars Nova Copenhagen is widely recognized as one of the finest vocal groups in Europe. Founded in 1979, the ensemble regularly appears across Europe, and in North and South America, and Asia. Its chief conductor since 2002 is Paul Hillier. At the heart of Ars Nova Copenhagen's work is its equal dedication to early music and new music. Its harmonia mundi début recording, "The Little Match Girl Passion" with music by David Lang received a 2010 Grammy Award. Each season, the group has a composerin-residence: Toivo Tulev (Estonia) in 2007, Bernd Franke (Germany) in 2008, Sunleif Rasmussen (Faroe Islands) in 2009 and Áskell Másson (Iceland) in 2010. The group has its own record label (Ars Nova Records) and is sponsored by the Danish Cultural Ministry.

Source: CD Booklet

Theatre of Voices

See also

Christmas with the Faces of Classical Music