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The SCO Chorus' favourite Christmas music

27 Nov 2023

News Story

In the lead-up to Christmas, who better than the SCO Chorus to recommend a suitable soundtrack for the festive season?

We asked the Chorus for their thoughts and they came back to us with an impressively broad selection. Covering a wide range of styles, with music in their repertoire both in the Chorus and elsewhere, there were also requests for specific recordings, including several by Scottish vocal ensembles. It makes for ideal Christmas listening to have on in the background as you bake another couple of trays of mince pies … or as you tuck into them on a cold winter’s night, perhaps with a warming glass of mulled wine to hand.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio kicks things off in suitably celebratory mood: there’s no mistaking that opening timpani figure, giving way to plenty of fanfares before the chorus enters. “Jauchzet, frohlocket,” they sing: rejoice and be glad, words which truly sum up the season as a whole. As one of the Chorus put it, “the opening trumpets lift my heart”.

A loose retelling of the Nativity follows, with Michael Head’s carol The little road to Bethlehem (in a performance by the NYCOS National Girls’ Choir) setting the scene. The shepherds are just heading back to their flocks – marked by former SCO Principal Conductor Robin Ticciati’s recording of Berlioz’ The childhood of Christ – when Praetorius’ hymn Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How brightly shines the morning star) is heard. This well-loved hymn carries over into Cornelius’ The three kings, where it underpins a solo male voice: it is sung here by Peter Schreier, in the less familiar setting with piano acccompaniment.

This section finishes with Mary singing a lullaby to her child in the form of the Coventry Carol – given an Edinburgh makeover of sorts, with the choir of St Mary’s Cathedral singing Kenneth Leighton’s music. As with the other music in this narrative, this is another favourite of several Chorus members’: these pieces form an integral part of their Christmas season, whether as performers or listeners.

Robust, jolly and infused with dance rhythms; you will be left with earworms aplenty!

An SCO Chorus member enthuses about Praetorius

MacMillan’s O radiant dawn has become a Chorus favourite of late, one singer having seen an audience member moved to tears by its sheer beauty. For all its resplendent depiction of the light that is to come, however, we are still In the bleak midwinter – an especially moving setting by Holst of Christina Rosetti’s poem, whose depiction of the natural world extends into the next few pieces. These start with a triptych centred around the rose, an enduring metaphor for Christ’s mother. Praetorius (the only composer to appear twice on this list), Britten and Howells were all inspired by this image to create some of their most beautiful music, which leads us into another pair of abiding works, both depicting trees.

Poston’s Jesus Christ the apple tree is characterised by a folk-like simplicity, and signals a further step into more secular realms … in the shape of Charles Schulz’ Peanuts cartoons. More specifically, this is the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s jazzy take on O Tannenbaum featured in 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, to this day a fixture of the festive season for many families with young children.

Our closing number, Have yourself a merry little Christmas, may not be in the Chorus’ repertoire but, in this rendition by the King’s Singers, one of their number finds it absolutely irresistible, a crowd-pleaser given a refreshing twist. Whether or not you sing along (we certainly struggle not to!), we hope you do indeed have yourself a merry little Christmas, and a very happy New Year.

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