Advent and Christmas Concert 2004

An unusual feature of this year’s Christmas Concert  is the inclusion of a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis.  It is surprising that this is unusual, since the texts of these songs bracket, so to speak,  the Christmas story, marking its beginning and end.  In the Magnificat or Song of Mary, the Virgin expressing the joy and thanksgiving at the Annunciation (the appearance the angel Gabriel to Mary). In the Nunc Dimittis or Song of Simeon, the aged Simeon expresses thanks for witnessing the fulfilment of God’s promise of Salvation, having witnessed the presentation of the infant Christ at the Temple.  Although you will not normally hear a  Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis at an English Christmas or carol concert, there are a extraordinarily large number of settings of them by English composers,.  This is because their inclusion in Thomas Cranmer’s  Office of Evensong or Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549.  The form of Evensong  resulted in Cranmer’s fusing together of the Roman offices of Vespers and Compline.  Despite liturgical revisions and other upheavals, Cranmer’s liturgy was reiterated in the definitive 1662 Prayer book, which can still be heard daily in English cathedrals throughout the year in Choral Evensong.    In addition, the texts lend themselves to dramatic development.  For tonight’s concert we have selected one of the most famous of the English "Mag and Nuncs":  that from Charles Villiers Stanford’s Evening Service in G.  The Magnificat has an a extended treble solo (usually sung by a boy),  with interjections from the choir,  and a lively
moto perpetuo organ accompaniment,  said by one commentator to represent the Virgin’s spinning wheel, with which she invariably painted in pictures of the Annunciation.   As befits a mixed chorus, the solo will be sung by one of the Chorus sopranos.  There is a greater emphasis than usual on the English repertoire with, in addition to the the Stanford work,  the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ setting of the tune “Forest Green” and "The Shepherd's Pipe Carol" by the popular contemporary English composer John Rutter.

The tercentenary of the French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier ( 1643-1704) is marked by the Kyrie from his "Messe de Minuit".  The custom of including poetry is continued with U A Fanthorpe's  "BC:AD".  A group of works will be dedicated to the memory of the victims of Beslan including Blazenni  by Petr Illyich Tchaikovsky and Peter Warlock’s Cradle Song 

As usual the concert will have its traditional conclusion with candle-lit carols