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Hallé Christmas!
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921) Hansel and Gretel – Overture
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-69) The Shepherd’s Farewell from The Childhood of Christ
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-93) Waltz of the Snowflakes from The Nutcracker Op. 71
Cecil BROADHURST arr. Malcolm Sargent Cowboy Carol
Adolphe ADAM (1803-56) arr. Henri TOMASI Cantique de Noël (Minuit, chrétiens!)
Peter CORNELIUS (1824-74) arr. Ivor ATKINS The Three Kings Op. 8 No.3
Leroy ANDERSON Sleigh Ride
Arr. David WILLCOCKS O come, all ye faithful
Arr. Arthur WARRELL orch. Pat RYAN We wish you a merry Christmas
Brian Rayner Cook (bar)
Hallé Choir/Ronald Frost (chorus master)
Hallé Orchestra/Maurice Handford
Recorded in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, May 1980 ADD
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 7243 5 75797 2 8 [49:44]

In the affectionate booklet note accompanying this disc, Philip Radcliffe, a music critic with the Manchester Evening News for many years and no doubt a regular commentator on Hallé concerts in their home city, recalls with pleasure his personal memories of Hallé concerts of Christmas past, including those going back to Barbirolli’s days with the orchestra.

These days the choice of concerts on offer during the festive season could easily result in a serious case of overdose and the same can be said of recordings of Christmas music, the variety bewildering and many with mid and super-budget price tags.

This recording of festive favourites falls into the latter super-budget category, recorded in the Free Trade Hall in the positively un-festive climate of May 1980. The programme, with the possible exception of the Humperdinck, is on the whole rather conventional yet not without interest, there being a handful of pieces worthy of mention alongside the predictable fare of O, come all ye faithful and Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols is far from under-recorded but it is a radiant work that never fails to give pleasure, here receiving a spirited performance with baritone Brian Rayner Cook a fine soloist in the beautiful setting of the Gloucestershire folk song, This is the truth sent from above, with sensitive vocal accompaniment from the Hallé Choir. Cook is again the soloist in Adolphe Adam’s touching Cantique de Noël, perhaps more familiar to many as O Holy Night or Angel Voices and heard here in an attractive arrangement by French composer, Henri Tomasi. Sargent’s arrangement of Cecil Broadhurst’s Cowboy Carol is a great favourite with amateur choirs and has become very well known as a result, as has The Three Kings by Peter Cornelius. The inclusion of Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Snowflakes and The Shepherd’s Farewell from Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ are again welcome, the charming Tchaikovsky waltz being particularly appealing, with the Hallé Choir once again showing themselves to be on good form.

All in all, at around five pounds it is difficult to be critical of this disc on the grounds of value. For those who prefer their festive music wrapped in a slightly more adventurous package however, try the appealing new Naxos release (8.557099) of orchestral music for the Christmas season, which includes the familiar Carol Symphony by Victor Hely-Hutchinson alongside the less familiar Christmas Carol Symphony by Patric Standford and works by Philip Lane and Bryan Kelly. At around the same price you really can’t go wrong.

Christopher Thomas.

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