Philip Jordan 7th December 2016
This was actually a selection of pieces by members of the Society, but Philip had put them together into a complete programme and also announced them.
First out of the hat was a composer unfamiliar to just about all of us and this was Rosalie’s choice – the Hungarian Eugene Zador, and A Christmas Overture, which although only eight minutes or so was in four segments: The Joy of Christmas – Sleigh Ride – Nativity –Adoration. It was played by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. Eugene Zador (also known as Jeno Zador) was an Americanised Hungarian composer, born 1894, died 1977. He studied in Vienna and also with Max Reger in Leipzig. Thanks to Rosalie to introducing him to us.
This was followed by Alan Barnes: A Jazz Christmas Carol. Barnes, Jazz Saxophonist, Clarinettist, Composer, Arranger and Educator, as his web site has it, was born in 1959. He has played with many famous bands, including the Pasadena Roof Orchestra and Humphrey Lyttelton’s Band and also toured with Bryan Ferry. In the piece we heard Bah Humbug, a gruff baritone sax representing Scrooge.
Helen’s selection followed. These were three readings of poems:
Christmas by John Betjeman, read by Hermione Norris,
Mistletoe by Walter de la Mare, read by Joanna Lumley, and
Snowflakes by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, also read by Hermione Norris.
The last was an addition by Philip after listening to the CD, which was entitled Christmas Words for You.
Mistletoe may not be all that familiar, and as it’s quite short here it is:
Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Someone came, and kissed me there.
Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.
Next came Sheila’s suggestion, a CD by The Watersons. They were an English folk group from Hull. They performed mainly traditional folk music with little or no accompaniment. The three songs we heard came from an early 1966 album called simply The Watersons. The line-up changed over the years and Lal (Elaine) died in 1998 and Mike in 2011.
We heard: God Bless the Master.
While Shepherds watched their flocks by night.
And an additional one added by Philip – Heavenly Aeroplane.
Philip said that this last made him think of his son who would be flying back from Brazil next week, a flight involving a helicopter transfer, which always made him a little uneasy.
At this point Philip interposed an additional short song submitted by Ann. Earlier he had said that when the CDs were set out on the table a “foreigner” had appeared amongst them. A mystery! So when he called out to Ivan “Mystery!” it would be the cue to play this additional CD. It was Riu, Riu, Chiu – Ann said she had no idea how to pronounce it but husband Paul will be taking part in a concert by the Ipswich Choral Society on 20th December, when it will be performed. It’s a traditional Spanish carol, which now appears in Christmas collections, and was even performed by The Monkees. “And I like it”, said Ann.
Norma’s choice – The Shepherds’ Farewell from L’Enfance du Christ by Berlioz came next. It was performed by the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra of L’Opera conducted by John Elliot Gardiner. An always popular choice with a delightful accompaniment.
Mike Fowle had chosen Tom Lehrer, and his Christmas Carol. No sentiment here – Tom Lehrer providing the ultimate take down of Christmas, Mike had said.
To take us to the interval, Heather gave us a few tunes on the piano. She explained that when Mike had sent her a message asking whether she would be willing to do so she had been rather grumpy (not really) because she didn’t like to be reminded of Christmas too soon – as is well known in her family. She said she didn’t want to play anything Christmassy but she hoped her choices would be relaxing.
She played four pieces, and first came Pamela Wedgewood. Did any of us play the piano or have children who were learning? If so, we would surely have come across Pam Wedgewood, whose instruction books are universal. This was a piece composed by her called Charlie, included in a book called After Hours Jazz.
Heather then played George Gershwin – Love is Here to Stay. Her next piece won the Grammy Award for Best Song for 1966. Anybody recognise it? Yes, indeed, it was The Shadow of Your Smile, also known as the Love Theme from the film The Sandpiper, composed by Johnny Mandel. He also wrote the theme tune to MASH, Heather informed us.
Finally, Cole Porter’s Night and Day.
Interval (With special thanks to Hilary, Rosalie and Norman for the mince pies and other goodies – and apologies to anyone overlooked.)
We resumed with Mike Stephenson’s choice – The Assault on Beautiful Gorky by Shostakovich (“Hooray!” said Ann). This came to mind for Mike through seeing the reports of the appalling tragedy of Aleppo. The music comes from a film called The Unforgettable Year 1919, although the film is – notwithstanding its title – generally forgotten.
Philip noted that the recording was made at St John’s in the heart of Westminster, where he would be in a week’s time.
Two selections from Ivan came next – from a recording made in Stockholm in 1976, called Cantate Domino, which seems to have made quite a stir in Hi Fi circles for its superb quality, Adolphe Adam’s Julsang or Christmas Song (or carol). The Oscar Motet Choir, director Torsten Nilsson, organist Alf Linder, brass ensemble and Marianne Mellnas soprano. Sung in Swedish, this was serenely beautiful.
From the same disc came Stille Nacht (Silent Night) sung in German. Most people will know this and many may well know that it was composed by Franz Gruber but how many know that it was originally written for guitar accompaniment as the organ had broken down? (So Ivan informs us.)
Norman had volunteered a CD which also been played the previous year – On Christmas Night, a collection of beautiful carols sung by the choir of Merton College, Oxford. Norman had not specified any particular track so Philip had chosen two not played the previous year. (Philip had said he was quite surprised to find that this was the fourth year he had put together a Christmas collection.)
From Norman’s disc we heard the eponymous The Sussex Carol – On Christmas Night, arranged by Philip Ledger. The musical director was Benjamin Nicholas and the organist Peter Shepherd.
Then Holst’s In the Bleak Midwinter. The solo tenor part was sung by Oliver Kelham. Beautiful singing, said Philip, and it reminded him of the terrible winters of years ago, not just snow and ice but killer smogs. But very slippery roads were a hazard, when not having a car they cycled to members of their family. On the other hand, he had spent two seasons in New Zealand with quite the opposite weather, when he could think of the poor souls back home in the cold.
As for his own selection, Philip said that a few years ago he travelled from Massachusetts to Toronto in severe weather conditions with three feet of snow. And in Ontario he had heard the Elora Festival Singers. This was a CD he had played last year but this time he chose What Sweeter Music by John Rutter. The musical director was Noel Edison and the organist Michael Bloss.
Then from a two CD set of Welsh Male Voice Choirs – A Welsh Male Voice Christmas – we heard first Joy to the World, by the Cwmbach Male Choir, and then Song of Hope by the Cor Meibion Llanelli. We need a lot of hope these days, said Philip.
Well, he added, he seemed to have concluded with a lot of choral singing, but it was absolutely magnificent. He thanked all who had contributed their suggestions and Heather for her musical interlude – which was great. This would be the last Christmas programme he would put together (because he was moving away).
Norman said that Philip had thanked most people but he added his thanks to Philip for all his efforts. And wished everybody a very happy Christmas