Fancy a different Christmas? Well, it's too late now to assemble a large orchestra, organist, four choirs and SATB soloists but pencil this one in for the future - part one of Liszt's mammoth oratorio Christus is one of the most Christmassy things in the repertoire.
Begun in 1861, the 180-minute monster, a neo-Romantic updating of the Messiah which apparently inspired Mahler's Eighth wasn't completed by the Abbe Liszt until 1873 and wasn't performed very often (duh). It's a shame; basically alternating beautifully orchestrated tone-poems with elongated acappella choral passages, it's some of the most wonderful music Liszt ever wrote. The first part is full of light orchestral textures, harp and woodwind and daintily skipping rhythms. Nothing too frivolous, mind, depicting the shepherds and the three kings on their way to Bethlehem. But the harmonies are full of not only reverence but almost childlike expectation and anticipation, as though every star in that black sky is blinking with eagerness at what's going on down below. The Stabat Mater speciosa setting is gentle, modestly passionate, makes Rutter sound like Ferneyhough on a bad day. Quite beautiful; one for very late nights, mince pies, Sauternes, and distant church bells as the midnight frost comes down. Helmuth Rilling's Stuttgart recording from 1997 is the most recent; Conlon and Forrai have also braved this mighty edifice, but the killer recording, for this writer is Antal Dorati, taking it in such an architectonic way that makes you yearn to hear what he could have done with Bruckner and Mahler.
More festive fun to sing next time, folks!