Charpentier: A Christmas Oratorio
St John’s, Smith Square, 9 December 2019
In nativitatem Domini Canticum H416
Pastorale sur la naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ H483/483b
In a refreshing change from the usual Christmas music offering, the Solomon’s Knot Collective took us to 17th-century Paris for two of the pieces that Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed for the Christmas season. The 1685 Pastorale sur la naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ was composed for Marie de Lorraine, Duchesse de Guise, also known as Mademoiselle de Guise. She was Charpentier’s principal patron. It was performed in the chapel of the Guise family’s Paris home, the Hôtel de Guise, and included several household staff as singers or instrumentalists, with Charpentier himself sang haute-contra. A mini-opera in scope and structure, the piece includes a reference to the death a few years earlier of the Duchesse’s nephew, the 5-year old heir to her line of the Guise family, as well as a shepherdess’s touching elegy on the death of her favourite sheep.
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Spitalfields Music: Christmas Oratorio
St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. 15 December 2015
In what they described as a “subtle dramatisation”, the Solomon’s Knot Baroque Collective performed four of the six cantatas that make up Bach’s so-called ‘Christmas Oratorio’ as the closing concert of this years Spitalfields Music Winter Festival. And they did it with the eight singers all singing from memory. What could so easily have been a bit of a gimmick turned out to be a thought-provoking experience, at least from the audience’s perspective. One of the aims of Solomon’s Knot is to ‘remove the barriers (visible and invisible) between performers and spectators’. This performance certainly did that. Initially having eight singers gazing directly at us seemed like opening your front door to a massed gathering of Mormons, all earnest looking in matching dark suits and (in this case, red) ties. Or perhaps we had stumbled into some sort of revivalist meeting – or an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering.
The ‘dramatisation’ was certainly subtle. There was no obvious acting, merely glances between the performers, a slight re-positioning on stage, a couple moving together and, later, a sedate confrontation with a rather buttoned-up Herod. But what was immediately apparent was that they were singing directly to us, making direct eye contact with the audience. The group went out of their way Continue reading →