Tuesday 18 December 2018

Noël! Noël! 2018

Vintage German Xmas card image with snow and pinecones, ein frohes Weihnachtsfest

It's feeling a little bit German around here this Festive Season. No, not like the illustration above; it is, after all, a topsy-turvy world here in the Antipodes. It has been distinctly stormy and steamy this week (or sultry, as my Italian father-in-law was wont to say), as we run headlong toward the Summer Solstice. We've even had some Dramatic Wind to contend with around the Pipistrello roost and the emergency services came to salvage a neighbour's crushed car from under half a decades-old Ficus rubiginosa that had split down its middle in our driveway, but I digress...

I had thought to put paid to the ghastly, commercial, boxed Italian Panettone by baking my own this year (I do have plenty of candied citrus peel to get through) but have been distracted by a recipe for Stollen with a great hunk of marzipan through the middle (and thank you, Clever L for pointing out that they are to be found aplenty at Aldi, but That's Not The Point). It's not something I've ever eaten but it sounds delicious and the picture looks amazing. There are no longer 3 weeks left to have it Mature if I make it today but who's to know the difference? There are no connoisseurs of German baking around here. Not that that stops me from mucking around with new things. I can say now that after a few variations, Lebkuchen is not on my Greatest Hits list and won't be revisited again but Bethmännchen is a keeper and Pfeffernüsse is on my list for today. Yes, I shall be whipping up my own marzipan and Lebkuchengewürz before dazzling myself with some new hausfrau skills. I am optimistic! I'm loving my new German vocabulary, too.

Black and white photograph of woman in vintage kitchen cooking
This'll be Pipistrello later today

These past years, we've musically launched ourselves into Christmas by taking in some olde worlde carols with a group of friends at the concert which rounds out the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir's season. We regrettably missed 2017, so Mr. P and I were determined not to miss the Noël! Noël! Baroque-fest this year. Off we trundled, our little group of carol faithfuls this year limited to just us and J&P, to the acoustically atmospheric St. Francis of Assisi church in Paddington, our expectations high. And we were not disappointed!

John Melhuish Strudwick, Evensong, St Cecilia, 1897 Pre-Raphaelite painting of harpsichord and singers
Not Paul Dyer!
Artistic director and harpsichordist-extraordinaire Paul Dyer assembled an exquisite programme of delights, showcasing twenty carols and songs across 700 years of music. To present as guest soprano the very talented and glamorous star-in-the-making, Bonnie de la Hunty, he first paid tribute to 12th Century polymathic abbess, Hildegard von Bingen, then all the performers launched into a commissioned arrangement of her song, O eucharia in laeta via, and Bonnie took the stage in the first of four stunning gowns.

Hildegard von Bingen, 12th century German polymathic abbess woodblock print
Hildegard working hard
My favourite pieces were mainly German, and as fluent German-speaker J says, the language sounds so much better in song. The 17th Century tune by Johann Crüger, Nuch komm der Heyden Heyland was particularly glorious, with Baroque drumming, surging choir and Bonnie singing like an angel, sparkling in a sequinned black number, and sporting dazzling gems at wrist and ears. (Possibly paste, so hard to tell from the pew, but when the Brandenburg Orchestra's principal partner is Macquarie Group, who knows!)

Martin Luther's 16th century choral, Nuch komm der Heyden Heyland, from the Erfurt Enchiridion
Johann Crüger's Lutheran chorale

We heard a range of pieces, from Gregorian chant to Irish lullaby, instrumental arrangements of crowd-pleasing carols like We three kings of Orient are, and vocal arrangements of the likes of White Christmas. A stunning piece by contemporary choral composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, Only in sleep, with its shimmering cymbals was as traditional and carol-y as Johannes Eccard's early Baroque polyphonic work, Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier.

German engraving of three musicians, Nach der Music, circa 1580
Like the Brandenburg, dressed by the C16th M.J. Bale

George Frideric Handel's colourful Baroque aria, 'Let the bright seraphim' from Samson, was a terrific showcase for Bonnie's voice (now cutting an elegant figure in a white Grecian-esque gown) and the Baroque trumpet  talents of Leanne Sullivan. Like the magic of agrodolce, what sounds on paper to be a very unhappy pairing makes for an exquisite surprise!

Renaissance era Lady trumpeter illustration
Not Leanne Sullivan!
The Brandenburg concert traditionally finishes with a variation on Franz Xaver Gruber's Stille Nacht (this year in German and with Tommie Andersson leading the orchestral contribution on the theorbo) followed by O come, all ye faithful. Always joyful, always rousing and as ever, we the audience burst forth from the church with big smiles on our dials! The Festive Season has begun!


    I would start with the PANETTONE!!!!!!!
    Which I did a version on SATURDAY that was DELICIOUS!
    BUY the PANETTONE!CUT off the MUFFIN TOP........then cut two more layers like two round cakes!
    ADD Mascarpone and butter together with crushed almond....SO NOW YOU HAVE A FROSTING!
    FROST THAT BABY and assemble!
    BEYOND DELICIOUS.............found recipe in A TABLE IN VENICE!Her FATHER had something to do with AUSTRALIA back in the DAY TOO!She is BRITISH........SKYPE MCALPINE.
    I'm so excited I think I can COMMENT TODAY!LETS SEE!!!!

    1. The Panettone does sound delicious ... just have to get around the awful taste of the shop-bought variety - maybe this utilisation is the solution! Looking for the recipe, I had a look at the Skye McAlpine blog, which seems not to be active anymore, and it's gorgeous!! A bit like the Manger blog based in France. Yes, her father was rather well-known here in Australia. Mr P and I used to Winter Holiday up in Broome, the pearling town on the fringe of the NW desert that Lord McAlpine made fashionable for city-slickers like us, and over the years heard many Interesting Tales about his eccentricity (perhaps, Tall Tales?). My favourite was that he used to send his shirts off to be laundered in Singapore! As the crow flies, it is probably the closest city with a Chinese Laundry handy to Broome, but how Indulgent!!

  2. I shall readily admit that I've personally never baked a Stollen but I can assure you the Aldi version is delish! I've tried it in England where Aldi outlets are to be found in abundance (not so here in the United States). However, I admire your efforts to make your own Stollen. You are inspirational!

    As for Christmas music, I started playing my favorite tunes a few days ago which instantly put me in the Christmas spirit, finally!

    Merry Christmas to you dearest Pipi and please report on your baking efforts when complete and consumed.

    1. Yes, I should probably buy an Aldi Stollen and see if I like it first, as the days are fast slipping away for Idle Kitchen Experiments! Too kind to suggest that I'm inspirational but I shall report back to these pages when the Pudding has been Proven.

      I'm sure you'll be authoring your own Festive Highlights before long, which I will be looking forward to enormously. Meanwhile, Merry Christmas to you, too, dear CD!


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