At 5pm on Sunday, 8 December, the Sydney University Graduate Choir, conducted by its Music Director, Christopher Bowen OAM, will present a concert of German Christmas works in the Great Hall of the University. The soloists will be Elke Hook (soprano) and David Hidden (bass).
The Christmas festival plays a very important role in German culture, with Christmas markets flourishing in town squares all over the country, Christmas angels decorating public spaces and private homes, and favorite Christmas food and drink helping to spread good cheer.
The larger of the two German works we are performing, Der Stern von Bethlehem Op 164 (the Star of Bethlehem), subtitled a Christmas Cantata for Choir, Soloists and Orchestra, is by Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901). It tells the Christmas story in loving and picturesque detail. Rheinberger had a career in Munich, as an important organist, teacher and composer in the late nineteenth century.
The composition of The Star of Bethlehem was a labour of love for Rheinberger. His wife, Franziska ‘”Fanny” von Hoffnaass, was a widely cultured person and gifted poet, whose texts he frequently set to music, as is the case with this work. Composed in 1890, The Star of Bethlehem is a lyrical and moving account of the Christmas story in nine scenes. In the movement, Der Stern (The Star), for example, the music conveys the trot of the camels, the arrival of the wise men in Jerusalem, their despair at the temporary disappearance of the star and their joy when it reappears and settles over the stable in Bethlehem.
Rheinberger’s work will make a charming and rewarding launch of the Christmas season.
The other German work on the program is the Weihnachts Ouvertuere (Christmas Overture) of Otto Nicolai (1810-1849). This is a stirring, impressive product of the early Romantic age (composed in 1833) but it takes the listener back to a much earlier times, as it is a setting of the chorale, Vom Himmel Hoch, with words and music by Martin Luther. In English. Vom Himmel Hoch means from Heaven above.
In recent times, the Choir has performed a number of works by Nicolai and has found them to be very pleasing. The Weihnachts Ouvertuere is no exception.
In addition to the German works, the program will also include a number of Christmas carols.