Thursday, 8 December 2011

Vicar Hears Confession

The vicar of St Bartholomew the Great uses the opportunity of the St Nicholas Day Petersedition Carol Service to condemn  carol-singing hypocrisy.  'To pretend to like is a sin, he says, 'but to pretend to dislike is practically a sin against the Holy Ghost.' He is welcoming the audience which has come to hear carols issued by the London publishing house and performed by the choir Tenebrae whom the publisher now manages. Does he mean Rutter? everyone thinks. There is none in the concert. It begins with Judith Bingham's sinister The Clouded Heaven which shows off the choir's amazing 'Russian' basses and keeps returning to a major/minor jazz chord.

Roxanna Panufnik's Jesus Christ is Born Today has joyful hoe-down exuberance. Thomas Ades' Fayrfax Carol, a King's Cambridge Commission, involves difficult melodic leaps in canon. Ben Parry's Three Angels is in seductive five-four time throughout. Patric Standford's This Day has the rather Gothic flavours of his teacher Rubbra in bare fifths that melt into rich chords and lop-sided time signatures.  Jonathan Dove's skilful two-part I am the Day requires the sopranos and altos to sing I am Alpha and Omega in continuous ostinato against the lower voices' verse. Thomas Hewitt-Jones' What child is this? demonstrates the composer's ability to make an audience emote in Rutterish harmonies. He is a good choice for an official Olympics composer.  Jonathan Rathbone's The Oxen has irresistible light jazz, Swingle chords, the sort sinners are too ashamed to admit they like.

The readings are non-Biblical and include a popular American cutting from an 1897 newspaper column on the existence of Santa as well as one from the Daily Mirror in 1953 on Christmas cards. Others are from literature - Chesterton, Wordsworth, Longfellow etc - and read by executives from the publishing houses represented. There are three carols for the audience to sing. We are quite loud so those of us rendering 'deeply wailing' as 'deep sea whaling' in verse three of Lo he comes with clouds descending enjoy the private joke without upsetting the vicar.

The singing cellist is missing untold carol services holed up in the Royal Bethlem. The nurses have erected a six-inch Christmas tree in the activity room and I have given the patient a copy of the CD The Colours of Christmas which includes exclusively carols arranged, composed and conducted by John Rutter. She is too innocent to deny liking his music, but I confess, Father, to boasting a dislike for his sentimental harmonies in the past, despite the clear memory of having leapt for joy on first hearing his masterpiece The Shepherd's Pipe Carol, aged twelve or whatever. As with deep-sea whaling, the snotless nose, In the BMW, most highly flavoured gravy, and other examples of choirboy wit reserved only for the best-loved music, it was of course immediately christened the shepherd's pie carol.