With carols-by-candlelight spreading like a noxious winter weed, it behoves musicians to think outside the box - which is exactly what conductors Ronald Corp and Vladimir Jurowski have done. They've still presented carols, but in the raw rural state in which Vaughan Williams found them, in the variety of languages in which Arthur Honegger encountered them, or in the Blakean simplicity of the verses that Britten seized on for his A Ceremony of Carols, with which their concert began.
On trooped the New London Children's Choir, flanked by harpist Rachel Masters. "Hodie Christus Natus Est" was the processional hymn that Britten used, and though it was taken at such a lick that they'd have tripped over their cassocks if they had processed at that speed, the pace was perfect for this admirably disciplined ensemble. Corp's sensitive beat conjured up a performance with the most delicate calibration of dynamics and rhythm. The loud snore that echoed during the harpist's interlude was evidence that at least one soul was sweetly transported.
Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote his Fantasia on Christmas Carols to show the richness of the English folk heritage. As performed by the London Philharmonic Choir, with baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore officiating as a genial master of ceremonies, it became a wonderful evocation of snow-brushed-off-boots, good cheer by the fireside. While this work was a celebration of Englishness, Honegger's A Christmas Cantata - with lyrics in some of the obscurer French and German dialects - brought European angst, both political and personal, to the evening's mix.
This was Honegger's swan-song, but its "De Profundis" resonated with a larger terror, as brass and human voices contended in violently clashing keys. Under Jurowski's firm hand, the junior and senior choirs brilliantly negotiated the cunningly interwoven melodies; nice to see that the whole thing was being recorded for CD.
The evening's other offering was Britten's Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, with Pieter Schoeman and Alexander Zemtsov as the respective soloists. Schoeman's tone was distinguished by its purity, and Zemtsov's by its plangency: a complementarity nicely reflecting what this precocious early work is all about.Reuse content