Christmas with Paul Plishka (Andre Gauthier/ Camellia Johnson/ Marble Collegiate Church Choir/ Paul Plishka/ Richard Erickson/ Richard Erickson) (Naxos: 8.553506)
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Christmas with Paul Plishka
Several years ago on a freezing Sunday justbefore Christmas, Norman Vincent Peale, the minister at Marble CollegiateChurch, told his congregation about two men, hurrying to do last minute holidayshopping. They were standing on the curb of a busy New York intersection.
Traffic was at a standstill. Cars were in a gridlock and were backed up forblocks. Horns honked, people pushed and tempers were tested. One man said tothe other, "Isn't this terrible?" The second man smiled, looked atthe crush of humanity around him and replied, "I think it's just amazing.
All this hustle and bustle caused by a tiny infant born two thousand yearsago."
Each of us sees Christmas differently. Evencarols describe a variety of scenes: Love Came Down at Christmas, ColdDecember, Silent Night, O How Joyfully. For Metropolitan Opera bass PaulPlishka, "Christmas is family and it's seeing other people happy."It's not always easy to find family and happy people in a big city. But when youhave a loving home church, your chances of a "hometown" Christmas aremuch better.
Marble Collegiate Church may sit on New York'ssophisticated Fifth Avenue, but it could just as easily grace a sleepy littlelane in Vermont or a rural road in the corn-fields of Indiana. The CollegiateChurch is America's oldest Protestant church, with a continuous ministry since1628. It was the New World and the small city was known as New Amsterdam. Earlysettlers had come to the land on the Hudson from Holland and the church theyfounded was Dutch Reformed. Since then, a remarkable group of clergy and laityhas served the Collegiate Church, from Peter Minuit - its founding Elder - toNorman Vincent Peale and now, continuing the tradition, Arthur Caliandro.
Marble Collegiate Church is an astonishing mixof tradition and warmth. The bell in the outer churchyard was cast inAmsterdam, Holland, in 1975 and, before being moved to Marble, it hung in thehistoric Old North Church on Fulton Street. The bell in the tower has tolled atthe death of every American president since Martin Van Buren in 1862. The spirerises 215 feet above Fifth Avenue and is crowned by the original six-foot-six-inch-high Dutch style weather-vane, a reminder of the cock that crowedafter Peter denied knowing Jesus.
The interior of Marble is no less fascinating.
Three carpeted aisles divide horizontal pews of solid, deep mahogany paddedwith rich red wool damask upholstery, woven in France from the original patterndating from the mid-nineteenth century. Tiffany stained-glass windows installedat the turn of the century filter sunlight into the sanctuary. A narrow balconyis suspended over the sides and back of the church, like a rectangular Europeanrecital hall, the back of which houses the organ, a mass of organ pipes and thechoir-loft. And three carved mahogany chairs sit on the chancel, which isflanked on both sides by two more sets of organ-pipes. Marble may be carpeted,upholstered and dignified but, like those who worship there, it's alsoencouraging, genial and friendly. It's always aglow with lights andconversation and cheer and love. " America's Hometown Church" iswritten in large letters outside the doors and, inside, the affabilityoverflows in noisy, communal chatter.
Christmas at Marble is a time of familyremembrance. It's a time to join with new and old friends to celebrate thewarmth of the season; to sing carols and inhale the aroma of the perfect pinewreaths, decorated with huge red bows, that circle the balcony. It's theChristmas we dreamed of as children. It's the Christmas we long for as adults.
People from allover the world worship at Marbleand this Christmas recording is meant to reflect their diverse backgrounds.
Each of the carols is familiar, from the gentle It Came Upon a MidnightClear that sets the tone for a tender, old fashioned Christmas, to therollicking good cheer of Good Christian Men Rejoice, with itstambourines, harp and high spirited singing. The carols are sung in English butsome verses are heard in their original languages: French, German and evenUkrainian. The settings are simple, the tunes and words well-known, and theperformances balance the sophistication of a Fifth Avenue church with thehometown spirit of Marble.
The essence of Marble is Home. And this recordingis made to conjure up memories of Christmas past and fantasies of snowy seasonsto come. You're invited to sing along or have a party with plenty of friendsand good cheer. Decorate your tree while you listen. Or curl up on the couchwith your dog, a mug of hot chocolate and your memories. Marble is America'sHometown Church and this recording is meant to give you a real hometownChristmas.
1995 June LeBell
Paul Plishkahas been a principal artist andstarring bass of New York's Metropolitan Opera for over 27 years, with a busycareer that has taken him to leading opera-houses throughout North America andEurope. He was born in Pennsylvania into a family of Ukrainian origin and hadhis musical training with the Paterson Lyric Opera Theater before joining theNational Company of the Metropolitan Opera. While his majestic and powerfulvoice and impeccable artistry make him one of the world's foremost singers, inthe opera-house he is most often associated with the music of Giuseppe Verdiand for his renowned and idiomatic portrayal of the title role in BorisGodunov. His recordings include a release from the Metropolitan Opera onlaser disc and video of Verdi's Falstaff, in which he assumes the titlerole under the baton of James Levine, as well as a number of complete operas,and solo recitals of opera arias and of Ukrainian folk songs. His extraordinarybass voice, heard so often in major operatic roles, also exemplifies thegentleness, warmth and depth of feeling associated with the seasonal music ofChristmas. It adds a new dimension to this Christmas release, in which PaulPlishka celebrates the holiday season in a church to which he has developed avery special attachment.
Camellia Johnson's connection with Marble CollegiateChurch began when she joined the alto section of the professional choir. Sincethen she has emerged as a soprano of distinction, making her debut at theMetropolitan Opera in 1985 in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Her career hastaken her to major opera-houses from the Met to San Francisco, as well as toGlyndebourne and to the world's concert halls.
Richard Erickson, who served as interim MusicDirector at Marble Collegiate Church for part of the 1995 season and arrangedmany of the carols heard on this record, is director of music at Holy TrinityLutheran Church in New York City and Artistic Director of Bach Works, a NewYork ensemble that specialises in eighteenth-century music.