Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sting: A Winter's Night ... Live from Durham Cathedral

Premiered 26 November 2009

This 2009 special is a collection of wintry songs, ancient and modern as performed by Sting and a small army of around 35 musicians.  It was filmed in Durham Cathedral in the north of England.

As befits the setting, the program includes a mix of traditional songs such as "Soul Cake" and "Gabriel's Message" and interweaves them with more modern settings of ancient texts such as Peter Warlock's "Balulalow."   There are also a few re-workings of original songs from Sting's back catalog.  

RigbyMel says:

Whether or not one enjoys this special is going to have a lot to do with whether or not one enjoys Sting as a performer.   I happen to be fan and I think his musicianship shines in this special.

One of the concert's highlights is a beautiful arrangement of  "Christmas At Sea"  (a setting of a Robert Louis Stevenson poem). It's interwoven with a Scots Gaelic counter-melody called "Thograinn Thograinn" performed by harpist Mary MacMaster.

The lilting "Burning Babe" and the Appalachian-tinged "Cherry Tree Carol" are also standouts in an overall great performance.  The one number that sticks out like a sore thumb is "Cold Song", which has a good pedigree, as it was written by Henry Purcell, but doesn't really sit well in Sting's vocal range.   As a music history geek, I appreciate the ambition and breadth of this program.

The talented musicians and beautiful architectural setting make for excellent viewing and listening.  I also like the fact that many of the songs are NOT ones that regularly pop up on your average 24-hours a day 7 days a week Christmas radio station.

This is a special that I seem to return to and enjoy each year and recommend to Sting fans and music geeks.

RigbyMel's rating:

 3 and a half candy canes

J.A. Morris says:
Unlike my co-blogger, I'm not a big Sting fan.  The Police were one of the favorite bands of my youth, but Sting's solo career has been inconsistent in my opinion.  But I enjoyed A Winter's Night. It's feels more like a folk concert or a musicology seminar than just another "Sting concert".

Not every song performed here is explicitly a "Christmas Song", but it contains enough references to the holiday to qualify as a "Christmas" concert.  Sting opens with "Gabriel's Message," a traditional Christmas song he first recorded back in 1987.  I actually enjoyed this version better.  The string section incorporates the melody of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" into "Soul Cake."  I share RigbyMel's enthusiasm for "Christmas At Sea".  There's something hauntingly beautiful about hearing someone sing in a dying language like Scots Gaelic.  A high point of the concert.

If I have any problems with A Winter's Night, it's the pacing.  I've been to lots of concerts in my life, and the decision of when to play songs can make or break a concert.  I first saw this when it was featured on PBS's Great Performances series.  The performance ended with a rousing rendition of "I Saw Three Ships."  It gets the crowd dancing and clapping, a clog-dancer comes out and gets the fans even more excited.  I was even dancing a bit myself watching on tv! 

However,the version presented on dvd has one more song after that, "You Only Cross My Mind In Winter."  Not a bad song, but it's a much more subdued than "Three Ships" and has a major effect on the ending.  It didn't ruin the concert, but it's a misstep by a master showman.

A Winter's Night is an enjoyable concert recording.  Since its release, it has been something we watch near the beginning of every holiday season, and we often have it playing as "background music" while we put up Christmas decorations.  It's recommended, even for folks who aren't diehard Sting fans.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 candy canes.

1 comment:

bga said...

I love Sting's capacity to convey an ethereal tone to many songs. The idea of performing this in a cathedral makes me think the acoustics would be great with this type of music. I very much want to see this.