Merry Christmas - Traditional and New Christmas Music
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier (I stand here beside Thy manger) from Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio), BWV 248 arranged for string quartet and basso continuo by Franz Beyer [2:01]
Peter WARLOCK (1894–1930)
Bethlehem Down (1927) arranged for string quartet and basso continuo by Franz Beyer [2:58]
Johann PACHELBEL (1653–1706)
Canon (orig. for three violins and basso continuo) arranged for two violins, viola and basso continuo by Monika Henschel [4:23]
O du fröhliche (O, How Joyfully) (1816) arranged for boys choir and string quartet and basso continuo by Franz Beyer [2:20]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Air from Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 arranged for string quartet and basso continuo by Franz Beyer
[4:37] Kyrie: Gott Vater in Ewigkeit (Chorale) arranged for string quartet by Franz Beyer [2:49]
Stille Nacht (Silent Night) Original version) arranged for boys choir and string quartet by Franz Beyer [3:50]
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653–1713)
Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6/8 ‘Christmas Concerto’ arranged for string quartet and basso continuo (c. 1690) [13:11]
Earl J. REISDORFF (b. 1958)
The Christ-child Carol for boy soprano voices and string quartet (2007/2009) [3:07]
Roland FUDGE (b. 1947)
The Incarnation for four boy sopranos and string quartet (2009) [8:30]
Andy EVANS (b. 1961)
And Mary said for four boy trebles and string quartet (2009) [5:51]
Derek SMITH (b. 1930)
Carolingua for four boy soprano voices and string quartet (2009) [12:19]
Soloists of the Tölzer Knabenchor (Tölz Boys' Choir)/Ralf Ludewig
Henschel String Quartet (Christoph Henschel (violin); Markus Henschel (violin); Monika Henschel-Schwind (viola); Mathias Beyer-Karlshøj (cello)); Basso continuo: Marga Scheurich-Henschel (harpsichord); Frank Reinecke (double-bass)
rec. 11 May 2009, 15-16 May 2010, BOA Studio, Videofilmkunst, Munich, Germany. DDD
NEOS 90902 [66:19]
2 euros from each CD sale goes to SOS Children’s Villages.
(Henschel String Quartet - Ambassadors of SOS Children’s Villages.)
In a festive season so full of excess it is heart-warming to come across a Christmas offering that contains a special artistic purity together with a reverential quality and charitable intentions. This release titled ‘Merry Christmas devised and played by the renowned Henschel Quartet is an inspiring collection of beautiful Christmas music of both traditional and contemporary repertoire. On the majority of the tracks the Henschel are joined by a basso continuo and boys choir. Included are four world premiere recordings and several other first recordings in these new instrumental arrangements by Franz Beyer and by Monika Henschel-Schwind.
The inspiration for the disc came about from the passion and enthusiasm of Monika Henschel-Schwind to assist the SOS Children’s Villages. The organisation SOS Children is the world’s largest orphan and abandoned children’s charity. In 2008 Monika decided to produce a Christmas album with her fellow Henschel members that would benefit the charity with 2 euros from each CD sale going to SOS Children’s Villages. The choir is provided by the renowned Tölzer Knabenchor (Tölz Boys Choir) directed by their choirmaster Ralf Ludewig. Based in Munich and founded over fifty years ago by chorus master Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden the Tölzer Knabenchor still maintains roots with the Bavarian town of Bad Tölz. Valuable basso continuo accompaniment is provided by harpsichordist Marga Scheurich-Henschel and the double-bass of Frank Reinecke.
Nine of these Christmas works for boys voices and string quartet came about as a result of a composing competition in the BBC Music Magazine. The jury awarded Derek Smith the first prize for Carolingua. In addition three other impressive entries from the competition were also recorded for the disc: And Mary said by Andy Evans; The Incarnation by Roland Fudge and The Christ-child Carol by Earl J. Reisdorff.
Four tracks are sung in English, three are in German with a further song straddling four languages; there is not a weak track on the whole Christmas collection. Several had a special appeal to me. Highly attractive is the choral anthem Bethlehem Down composed by the troubled composer Peter Warlock (aka Philip Heseltine) to a text by his friend Bruce Blunt. Short of money the two reprobates entered the score in the Daily Telegraph’s annual carol competition. Here Bethlehem Down is hauntingly performed with a measured dignity. The vulnerability of the boys choir is particularly attractive.
In my view the standout track is the gloriously performed world famous carol Stille Nacht (Silent Night). Franz Beyer’s arrangement is based on Franz Xaver Gruber’s original Alpine version from 1818. With its unforgettable vocal melody and catchy instrumentation in this new arrangement I can imagine Stille Nacht proving a real Christmas hit if taken up by a radio station.
Another splendidly performed work is the carol O du fröhliche (O, How Joyfully) in a Franz Beyer arrangement. Originally a traditional Sicilian fisherman’s song it was arranged in Goethe’s time to be a German Christmas carol for orphans. Monika Henschel-Schwind outlines to me the story of a beautiful German novel by Walter Nordmann that is particularly apposite to this SOS Children charity disc. The heart-warming tale tells of a devastated and lonely father who had lost all his children one by one to illness. The house no longer rings with the sound of children’s laughter. One day an orphan child knocked at the door and the lonely father took him in. Later more and more children knocked at his door. Soon the house was again ringing with the clamour of children.
Of the instrumental works in their new arrangements for string quartet and basso continuo both the Pachelbel Canon and J.S. Bach’s Air from Suite No. 3 are given outstanding performances. The playing has a meditative quality providing a near hypnotic effect and importantly the tempo is never allowed to drag.
The worthy winner of the BBC Music Magazine composing competition was Derek Smith’s Carolingua for boy soprano voices and string quartet. Extended at over twelve minutes the infectious appeal of Carolingua is its fresh and accessible contemporary feel. For the text the composer has selected four carols in different languages. Earl J. Reisdorff’s enchanting setting of G. K. Chesterton’s verse The Christ-child Carol for boy soprano voices and string quartet is highly appealing in the manner of a John Rutter score.
Recorded in Munich the sound quality is of a high standard if the choir is a touch close at times. Full texts are included but not English translations of the German carols. This excellent disc on Neos is a Christmas winner and a refreshing change from the usual cloying festive releases.
Michael Cookson
A Christmas winner and a refreshing change from the usual cloying festive releases.
List of soloists of the Tölzer Knabenchor (Tölz Boys' Choir):
Daniel Adler; Markus Althanns; Alexander von Both; Benedikt Buschbeck; Kilian Eisert; Noah Hack; Benjamin Hartwig; Raphael Hellinghausen; Daniel Krähmer; Jörg Lehne; Luis Lerner; Ralf Ludewig; Ferdinand Lutz; Johannes Möhrle; Andreas Mörwald; Ludwig Obst;
Coaches: Ralf Ludewig; Stefan A. Saur; Peter Schulz