Top Voices at Christmas: by Chris Price
Here is a lovely post by our Top Voices Director Chris Price,
For Top Voices, the Carols by Candlelight service is one of the highlights of the year. We have one slot in that service, so I’ve chosen music as much for its effect as anything else. Last year we performed a little-known piece by Kodaly – The Angels and the Shepherds – which split the choir into two sections, one of two and one of three parts. That makes demands on an ensemble which is kept deliberately small (about a dozen members) but they’re used to singing in anything up to eight parts, so five was not a problem, and the inherent drama of the piece – the angels end up singing a ringing top G for the last page and a half while the rest of the choir surges to a crescendo beneath them – meant that it had a stunning effect in the Cathedral.
For this year, I’ve chosen a piece by a fellow-musician of mine, Huw Morgan. Huw makes his living as a performer (he’s an organist), composer, choral director and teacher, and he’s set that lovely medieval text, There is a Flow’r Sprung of a Tree, for high voices. It’s much more reflective in temper than the Kodaly – no ostentatious fireworks this year – but musically more demanding, I think: three parts often divide into six, and Huw’s harmonic language is a mixture of medieval austerity and very modern, startling, glancing dissonance. Knowing how sympathetic the cathedral is to unaccompanied voices, especially when soft, I think it will have even more of an impact. Verse and chorus alternate, but the piece ends as it begins, with a lovely single line and, as always, the moment I most treasure is the silence when the last note has finally died away. If we’ve done our job well, people hardly dare breathe…