Friday, December 18, 2009

A Curate's Egg

' The readings seem shorter than usual', said J. We were at at the annual Carol Service at St Pauls on Tuesday. Except it wasn't a Carol Service, it was 'A Celebration of Christmas', and some of the reading were poems.

J had tipped us off about the event, but been detained at work. I had to talk my way past the stewards to retrieve her from the throng of 2,000 or so who were turned away. 'It wasn't like this last year', she commented.

The programme was odd mix. Instead of familiar biblical extracts recounting the annunciation, the rejection at the inn, the wrapping in swathing bands, visitations by angels, shepherds and wise men, we had Laurie Lee and Betjeman. Sadly, the modernised bible readings that were retained sounded like clumsy literal translations - the poetic -sounding swathing bands became mere 'strips of cloth'. Some bits struck a discordantly merry note: 'The Night Before Christmas' , an extract from 'Shirley Valentine' and the choir finale,' We Wish You a Merry Christmas'.

There was a good line-up of professionals for the readings: Sinead Cusack, Penelope Wilton and Toby Stephens. Sitting towards the back, I couldn't see them. There were whole sections at the front reserved for the special people, should they are to attend. Not a good idea to declare no room for those waiting in the cold when some couldn't be bothered to arrive on time.
The amplification was excellent. The choirmaster stuck out for more traditional carols, inserting the odd medieval madrigal - 'Lullay my Liking'- and even Latinate hymns scattered among classics like 'Hark the Herald'. No wonder the four little boys in front of me, like four miniature Boris Johnsons, wriggled and giggled.

I admired the way dimmers on the candelabrae continually varied the lighting between nave and altar area and pulpit, emphasising different performance areas. We always knew when it was our turn to sing and when the choir's. That was a good touch

Perhaps it was the lighting, continually casting different shadows and emphasizing harmony of sculpted stone, arches and cupolas under the great dome that made me realise what a wonderful building this was. It made me aware of the contrast with Spanish churches Whereas in the Spanish churches it's the artefacts - statuary and paintings and set-piece depictions, that caught the eye, with richness of texture and representaton, in St Pauls it's the architecture of the church itself that impresses.

So not one thing or the other, but very enjoyable. Next year I'll get there even earlier.


Joanna said...

Thanks for getting me past the stewards. It was good to see you and Roy again and the carol singing and music were a very good way to de-stress.

Sheila Cornelius said...

Jo, once again you came out tops with your recommends - and knowing a back-street pub where we could sit down afterwards.

Macy said...

Did Jeremy Irons read as well, or just his wife, Sinead Cusack?

Marta Richards said...

I am a fan of Toby Stephens, including his audiobooks, and I would be very interested to know what he read. Was his selection one of the modernized scripture passages? I am a traditionalist myself and I agree that in the current desire to be open and accessible often we throw beauty out with the bathsalts! Sounds like a lovely event even if you couldn't actually see those who were performing. I envy you! I will be coming from the US in late April to see Toby in "The Real Thing" at the Old Vic and I look forward to sampling the culture in your most wonderful city. Thanks again for your description, and Merry Christmas!

Sheila Cornelius said...

Macy,no. Just Sinead's name was in the programme. She did quite a few of the readings and I'm a big fan of her film, TV and stage work. Saw her in 'Dancing at Lughnasa' at the Old Vic earlier in the year. It should be in the blog index.

Sheila Cornelius said...

Marta. I'm afraid the readers weren't identified in the programme by the readings they gave, and there were three other male readers. I think I recognised him reading ironic poems, either Christmas Thank Yous by Mick Gower or Do you hate Christmas? by David Blythe, possibly both. Yes, I'm a fan too and loved seeing him in 'A Country Wife' earlier this year. I think it's in the blog index but could be last year. I used to admire his father, Robert Stephens, too, last seen by me playing a great Falstaff. I used to know someone who was engaged to Toby so nearly had Maggie Smith as a mother-in-law! Hope you enjoy your trip and that you'll let me know in case I can help if you need a contact while you're here.

Sheila Cornelius said...

Sorry, it was Niamh Cusack, not Sinead. My only excuse is those Cusacks are everywhere.

As for the review of The Country Wife I wrote it for a webmag called My Cultural Life. If you click on this under 'Where my work has been published' you'll find it on page 2 of the reviews. Please forgive me if you spent time looking for it in the blog index.

Sheila Cornelius said...

I mean it was Sinead at St Pauls and Niamh at the Old Vic. All this Christmas palaver is too much for me, I think.