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Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Like the Mystical Songs, the Fantasia on Christmas Carols was introduced by the composer at a Three Choirs Festival, this time at Hereford in 1912. It was the first of several works inspired by the idea of Christmas, others being the masque On Christmas Night, the Nativity play The First Nowell, the great cantata Hodie (which includes a George Herbert setting). The Fantasia is notable both for its restraint (it is by far the least showy of Vaughan Williams’s Christmas pieces, but I’m sure the composer wasn’t intentionally setting out to please the high-minded), and also for the fact that it avoids the most familiar carols. This undoubtedly was intentional: Vaughan Williams wanted to give a wider lease of life to beautiful tunes like ‘On Christmas night’, which he himself had collected in Sussex. Beginning with an introductory cello solo which has a narrative quality (‘Once upon a time’—or should it be ‘In the beginning was the Word’?), the piece falls into four linked sections:

I ‘This is the truth sent from above’ (baritone solo with wordless choral accompaniment)
II ‘Come all you worthy gentlemen’ (chorus and orchestra)
III ‘On Christmas night’ (solo baritone)
IV The last verses of parts II and III combined, words and music: final apotheosis with prominent chimes and repeated references to ‘A Virgin most Pure’. (Earlier in the work there is a fleeting reference to ‘The First Nowell’ but quite sharp ears are needed to spot it.) Then ‘the wassailers’ voices vanish into the distance, across the snow-covered fields and away into the night’. (Michael Kennedy).

from notes by Christopher Palmer © 1990

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA66420 track 7
Recording date
19 February 1990
Recording venue
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music, Flos Campi, Mystical Songs (CDA30025)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: October 2010
    Hyperion 30th Anniversary series
  2. Vaughan Williams: Choral Works (CDS44321/4)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: June 2008
    4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
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