Romantic Christmas Songs
The title may be misleading, and very glad I am to have found it so. ‘Romantic’ here does not mean slush. In an exceptionally intelligent introductory note, Roman Hinke explains that the programme ‘is intended to provide an insight into the incalculable wealth of German choral music from the early- to the late- Romantics’. This was part of ‘an a cappella ideal, backward-looking in many respects, through which the compositional style and aesthetic of old church music traditions lived on, while the latest trends in contemporary art were viewed only with great caution’. Folk song and chorale are the main sources, and in freer or larger compositions a prime influence is Bach.
I’m not sure that an ‘incalculable wealth’ is represented, or that ‘stylistic diversity’ is likely to be prominent among the general listener’s first impressions. More probable is that those will be of a well-defined national school, attractive in its taste and in the feeling its composers had for textures of choral sound.
The characteristic sound is finely caught in these performances by the RIAS Chamber Choir. The tone is warm and rich though completely innocent of the frayed or fruity vibrato which those adjectives can sometimes bring to mind. In style they range from the delicacy of Mary’s dream and the cradle songs to the splendour of Mendelssohn’s two short pieces for double-choir. Reger is the composer or arranger most in use, and the longest, most deliberately structured work is Friedrich Silcher’s Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe with its incorporation of the tune known in the English hymnbooks as St Theodulph and sung to All glory, laud and honour.