Massini, Ian de: Away in a manger
A carol at the heart of Christmas celebrations that has inspired over forty tunes since its first appearance in print in 1885, Away in a Manger has a surprisingly complex history of misattribution to Martin Luther and others, explained in fascinating detail in The New Oxford Book of Carols. Brushing aside the cobwebs of its past, Ian de Massini’s new musical setting transports the familiar words to an unfamiliar location: a crib scene evoked not in the midst of a homely parish church, but in a primitive Middle Eastern stable beneath the lucent darkness of a starry night sky. The piece invites two distinct manners of performance, both benefitting from the employment of staggered breathing: in its outer parts rapt and prayerful, befitting the pungent modal inflections and drone-like seamless harmonies; and in its middle section, Romantic and emotional, gently moving with warm expressivity. A fundamental presence, too, in the score is the timeless atmosphere of the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, a profoundly spiritual element in the music of this composer, who has sung regularly there since his days as a choral scholar.
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