Archives for 5 January 2014

The twelfth day of Christmas: Adeste

One likes to close on a high note, and since I began this twelve days’ journey in the Baroque period, I shall end there. ‘Adeste fideles’ is one of the most familiar Christmas carols all round the world; I dare say it has been translated into every living language except possibly Pirahã.

I thought of posting one of the performances at the Vatican, either from Christmas Eve, 2011, or from Epiphany a year ago. But while every material resource has been lavished on these – the best choirs, the best orchestras, the best arrangements and conductors – I am sad to say that the results do not justify the means employed. These versions plod. They limp from note to note; the choirs are not tight, the rhythm diffuse and imprecise, with the inevitable result that the words become mushy and indistinct. I had the impression that the singers would have fallen asleep but for the sheer volume of the orchestra. Both those performances were a chore to listen to, and I suspect they were a chore to perform: an old favourite of the masses that must be trotted out for its yearly exhibition, no matter how tired of it the musicians have become.

But even at this late date, it is still possible for a choir to treat the song, not as a staid set piece from an over-familiar repertoire, but as an invitation to make a joyous noise. As an example, I offer this performance by the choir of Hendon St. Mary’s in London, directed by Richard Morrison, with soloist Jo McGahon.

Merry Christmas to all, and a joyous Epiphany tomorrow; and may God’s grace go with you in 2014.