Thursday 19 July 2018

A classical soundtrack to accompany Christmas Day

Festive listening: capturing the sounds of Christmas
Festive listening: capturing the sounds of Christmas

George Hamilton

One of the things I love about Christmas is being at home and having the opportunity to put on some music and let it play throughout the day. With that in mind, I thought it might be enjoyable to consider a potential playlist to accompany not only the festive feast, but what goes before and comes after as well.

Even if your classical collection doesn't extend to all of what follows, with the likes of Spotify, Deezer, and iTunes, the perfect soundtrack should never be far away.

First thing Christmas morning is the perfect time for carols. 'O Come All Ye Faithful', 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing', 'Once in Royal David's City', those old reliables will get the big day off to the best possible start.

There'll also be a few less familiar seasonal songs around our tree, playing on something I picked up on a trip to Munich one December.

The title of this CD compilation - White Christmas - may have been somewhat contrived, but it was the description of what was inside that took me to the checkout. Weihnachten in aller Welt, it read - Christmas around the world (Philips Classics 468 032-2).

Inevitably, it kicks off with the old Bing Crosby staple, sung here by Kiri Te Kanawa. 'The First Nowell' and 'Jingle Bells' (played by a brass band) are among other regulars that show up as well.

There's Christmas music from Russia and Luxembourg, indicative of the variation across the 22 tracks. A particular favourite comes from Argentina - 'El Nacimiento' ('The Birth'), a haunting, expressive piece sung on this recording by José Carreras.

When the carols have played, it'll be Bach, the Christmas Oratorio, which bursts into life with a trumpet salute and the glorious chorus - 'Jauchzet, frohlocket' ('Rejoice, be glad!').

Any one of the six Brandenburg Concertos - the third would be my choice - can serve as our bridge between the sacred and the secular.

As dinner is served, some music by Mozart would be appropriate, the Clarinet Quintet and the slow movement from the Piano Concertos No 21 ('Elvira Madigan'), saving the final exuberant movement of Piano Concerto 23 for when the plates are being cleared away to make room for dessert.

Next would be the ballet music from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, which is all about the magic of Christmas when all the toys come to life.

It may be plum pudding on the table, but it would be the 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' sweeping from the speakers, followed by the sumptuous 'Waltz of the Flowers'.

And speaking of waltzes, there'd have to be a place for Émile Waldteufel's 'Les Patineurs' - 'The Skaters' Waltz' - which would lead us nicely into a selection of music by the family Strauss as evening draws on.

We're only a week away from the dazzling glamour of the New Year's Day concert in Vienna. Why not give ourselves a treat by running through a selection of what'll be played on January 1.

Polkas and waltzes, a march and a gavotte - 'Tales from the Vienna Woods' and 'Roses from the South' might encourage the odd guest into a quick twirl.

And then, by the fire, after the presents have been unwrapped and dinner is being digested, some Beethoven.

A couple of piano sonatas - the 'Moonlight' (No 14) and the 'Pathétique' (No 8) - to begin with. And I'd round it all off with the sublime hour of sound that is the great man's masterpiece, his Ninth Symphony.

Spellbinding, history's first example of a composer using human voices as instruments in his orchestra bringing the magnificent music to its conclusion in the Ode to Joy.

From carols to a chorus of celebration - the perfect Christmas playlist. And when the last notes have rung out, as Samuel Pepys put it many years ago, "And so to bed".

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday.

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