Round Hill Community Church – Holiday music on tap Sunday

The Round Hill Community Church says it has a “musical spectacular” in store on Sunday, including the chamber orchestra arrangement of Gerald Finzi’s In Terra Pax and Conrad Susa’s Carols and Lullabies, accompanied by harp, guitar and marimba.

In Terra Pax was almost the last piece that Mr. Finzi wrote, though its genesis can be traced to an event some thirty years previously, when one Christmas Eve he had climbed up to the church at the top of his beloved Chosen Hill, between Gloucester and Cheltenham. The sound of the midnight bells ringing out across the frosty Gloucestershire valleys evidently made a lasting impression on him, retrospectively providing the idea for In Terra Pax, as he told Vaughan Williams.

The work is a setting of two verses from Robert Bridges’s poem, Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913, subtitled Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis (Peace and goodwill to all men), which Mr. Finzi imaginatively and skillfully uses to frame St. Luke’s account of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds. In Terra Pax is subtitled “Christmas Scene,” and Mr. Finzi explained that “the Nativity becomes a vision seen by a wanderer on a dark and frosty Christmas Eve in our own familiar landscape.” This placing of the biblical story into an English pastoral context is entirely consistent with the composer’s close affinity with the English Romantic tradition, and his lifelong dedication to the creation of his own rural paradise at his home in Ashmansworth, near Newbury.

The two soloists and the chorus have clearly defined musical roles: Patrick Hogan, baritone soloist takes the voice of the poet, Risa Renae Harman, soprano, is cast as the angel, while the chorus narrates the familiar biblical text. In the opening section the poet is standing on a hill contemplating the events of the very first Christmas, the sound of the distant church bells becoming for him the sound of an angel choir. This image is expressed in a pealing-bells motif which, together with the refrain from The First Nowell, provides the musical fabric of the piece.

Conrad Susa began composing after graduating from Carnegie Institute of Technology, while he was staff pianist for the Pittsburgh Symphony under William Steinberg. A prolific composer, his scores for theatre, documentaries and operas total more than one hundred. The carols in Carols and Lullabies originated in Catalonia, Andalucia and Puerto Rico. Their distinctive Spanish rhythms and character will be enhanced by guitar, harp and marimba accompaniment. There will also be carols for the congregation.

The concerts will take place at the Round Hill Community Church, 395 Round Hill Road at the 10 a.m. service. Following the worship service, there will be a reception in the Church Parlor, with coffee and pastry. For more information, visit Roundhillcommunitychurch.org or call 203-869-1091.

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