Mike Telin, ClevelandClassical.com — Dec 15, 2009
In less then two years, Quire Cleveland has received accolades from all of the local classical music press for being an ensemble that posses “exceptional purity of pitch” (The Cleveland Plain Dealer) “Equally at home in the late Classical Style [as with a cappella music from the Renaissance]” (ClevelandClassical.com) as well as for producing “joyful sounds” (Cool Cleveland). In addition to presenting solo performances, Quire Cleveland has also served as the chorus for CityMusic Cleveland. Adding to the list of accomplishments, the ensemble has received praise for presenting creative and well-researched programs that are attractive to all audiences.
For their first holiday concert presentation, Quire Cleveland has assembled an intriguing and charming variety of holiday carols titled “Carols for Quire from the Old and New Worlds.” Upon receiving an advance copy of the program notes, it was easy to tell that this is not a program merely consisting of one carol from every part of the globe, but rather a program that demonstrates the interesting journeys around the globe that many of the carols have taken.
According to Ross Duffin, president and founding member of the group, he and Quire Cleveland’s music director Peter Bennett began talking about and outlining the concert back in February. “We wanted to create something a little different for this program,” which includes carols from Mexico, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, France, England, Holland, the US and Canada. Although he spoke enthusiastically about the entire repertory, he clearly became animated when talking about the carols with Ohio and Canadian connections.
Who knew that Ohio figured into the history of 'Away in a Manger'? Duffin points out that “the tune and text of the carol are both American in origin, but the history of our arrangement is complicated. The tune comes from a musical setting for voice and guitar of the Robert Burns love poem 'Flow gently sweet Afton'. The lyrics, probably written by James R. Murray, first appeared in an 1885 Lutheran children’s collection but only the first two stanzas were included. The third stanza first appeared in Gabriel’s 'Vineyard Songs', published in Louisville, Kentucky in 1892. For our performance we have taken the earliest three part setting of the piece which is from 'Warren’s Minstrel', a shaped note collection published by James Sullivan Warren in Columbus, Ohio in 1857.” In addition to "Away in a Manger" there are three other American carols included in the program.
Another carol that is close to Duffin is the Huron Carol. “Growing up in Canada, everybody knows the Huron carol to be Canada’s first Christmas carol, a piece attributed to Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary among the Huron Indians at Fort Ste. Marie in Ontario in the 1630’s and 40’s. He wrote this carol in Wendat or Wyandot, which is the native language of the Huron’s. There is a romanticized English translation called 'Twas in the moon of wintertime' (1926) by Jesse Edgar Middleton. The melody is a late 17th century French tune that was popular all over Europe called 'Une jeune fillette'. There was also an Italian version known as 'La Monaca' based on the French tune, with lyrics that say "Mama don’t make me become a nun ‘cause I don’t wanna". This is really an ironic choice of tune for a Jesuit missionary living in the wilds of Canada. For our performance we have set the original text to a version of the tune that was popular at the time of Brebeuf’s writing of the lyrics.”
Quire Cleveland will close the concert with a set featuring German carols that will include the music of Michael Praetorius’ 'In dulci jubilo' and 'Es ist ein Ros enstsprungen'. The final piece will be 'Wachet auf', with the first two stanzas as set by Praetorius and the final stanza from the chorale setting by J.S. Bach. Duffin adds “What more fitting ending to a program of Christmas choral music than Bach?”