Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bleak indeed - Darke too.

I was aware of the BBC Music Magazine's poll of the nation's favourite carols - I've just found the online equivalent here - and was happy to learn that the top choice was Harold Darke's setting of Christina Rosetti's "In the Bleak Midwinter". You can hear this version here.

However, when Radio Scotland got their mitts on the story this morning, they got it all wrong. For start, they did their usual hamfisted music clips thing before the report, so that the first thing we heard was the other well-known setting by Holst, which (a) is not the nation's favourite and (b) which I associate with the mournful droning of a sleepy congregation at midnight. Their guest musician pointed out feebly that there were two settings of the words, but either hadn't clocked the poll result or was too chicken to rage at his hosts. I'd have appreciated a John Cleese-type rant: Wrong! wrong! hopelessly wrong! - that kind of thing.

I want to think that we have decent media in Scotland and that even though the barren wastes of non-Anglican sensibilities are bound to have their effect there will be bastions of taste and decent research, but I keep being reminded of how difficult it is. And it was an interesting experience to go trawling for audio links this morning - there are some terrible performances out there. I have, however, found a decent one (in tune, couple of pleasing soloists) - so if you don't know what I'm talking about, have a listen. Then you can go and vote - use this site and have your say.


  1. If I have to listen to that carol, then I'd agree that Darke's setting is preferable.

  2. I've just been listening to a new CD of Advent music which has the most remarkable arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter, one of several carols I simply can't do without. The CD is Midwinter, by Christian Forshaw. I'm doing a longish blog post reviewing it which I'll publish on Advent Sunday. You can find details of the CD on Amazon or direct from The Sanctuary Ensemble.
    Shalom, Jim

  3. Anonymous11:33 AM

    Thanks, Christine. I agree with your view of BBC Scotland and Darke!
    I am sitting at home trying to finish a piece about Christina Rossetti for 'Inspires' magazine (Scottish Episcopal). I am trying to say succinctly why her words banish all the sentimentality of the season. Why does she bring real tears to our eyes? Is there something about Darke as well as his music? He kept our spirits up during the blitz in 1940 with his impromptu Saturday afternoon 'Messiah's' in London (I was told as a child). His communion setting has echoes of the tune too. I wonder what Rossetti would have thought of her poem being sung? Two odd and yet different people unwittingly working together.
    Thanks for getting me moving again.

  4. Thanks for dropping by, Andrew. Re Rossetti - don't you think the simplicity of the language is important? No flowery metaphor - it's almost childlike and therefore profound and universal. And the wonderful moment in the Darke when the passing note is omitted in "What shall I give him..." is what gets me, every time. Quite hard when you're singing it, as beautifully as you can ...