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The Night before Christmas
Leopold MOZART (1719-87) Arr. Philip LANE (b. 1950)

Classic Sleighride [3:11]
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912) Arr. Sydney BAYNES (1879-1938)

Christmas Overture [5:53]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

The Last Sleep of the Virgin (from La Vierge) [4:49]
Philip LANE (b. 1950)

Overture on French Carols [5:05]
The Night before Christmas [6:10]
Otto NICOLAI (1810-49)

Christmas Overture (based on the chorale Von Himmel Hoch [11:26]
John CARMICHAEL (b. 1930) Orchestrated by Philip LANE

Sleighride to Thredbo [1:57]
Franz LISZT (1811-86) Arr. By Anthony Collins (1893-1963)

The Christmas Tree Suite [10:35]
Doreen CARWITHEN (1922-2003) Reconstructed by Philip LANE

On the Twelfth Day [20:24]
Stephen Fry (narrator)
BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Singers/Barry Wordsworth
rec. The Colosseum, Town Hall, Watford, 11-12 September 2006. DDD
NAXOS 8.570331 [69:30]


The positive plethora of Christmas music available on CD these days ensures that there is something out there for everyone whichever direction your musical taste may take you. The choice does however make for a good deal of duplication with endless recordings of the evergreen carols by everyone from Kiri Te Kanawa to your local cathedral choir.

It is therefore quite refreshing to come across a new recording - in this case very new as the Naxos team have turned it round inside two months since its mid-September recording - that tries to come up with something outside the realms of the immediately familiar. True, not all of the music is of a quality that will grant it immortality amongst the all-time seasonal classics but there are several delights that are sure to bring a good deal of festive cheer.

Chief amongst these delights are the contributions of the seemingly indefatigable Philip Lane. His Overture on French Carols and setting for narrator and orchestra of Clement Clarke Moore’s cheekily charming poem ’Twas the Night before Christmas are enchanting additions to the bulging Christmas repertoire.

It is somewhat appropriate that the Overture on French Carols was inspired by a Christmas visit to Bayeux. Lane weaves a tapestry of perennial French carols including Il est né le divin enfant, Patapan and Noël nouvelet into a skilfully orchestrated five minute concert overture that deserves to find its way into the concert programmes of amateur as well as professional orchestras.

The star of the show however is the Moore setting, narrated by Stephen Fry in his familiar, erudite tones. This is music that is as warming as a steaming glass of mulled wine and as cosy as a fresh Yule log on the fire. The composer points out that he wrote the piece upon realising that there was no setting of the poem for narrator and orchestra, although maybe it also crossed his mind that Howard Blake’s The Snowman has virtually monopolised the narration element of Christmas concert programmes for many a year now.

Lane does not set out to create anything as ambitious as the Blake in his six minute setting, deliberately keeping the music to the length of time it takes to read the poem. Yet despite its comparative brevity the music is every bit as delightful as Blake’s classic and is likely to warm many a Christmas heart, both young and old.

Philip Lane is also behind two of the other notable curiosities in John Carmichael’s fleeting Sleighride to Thredbo, a brief musical picture of a ski resort in the composer’s native New South Wales and Doreen Carwithen’s On the Twelfth Day. Originally written to accompany a short film based around The Twelve Days of Christmas this twenty minute reconstruction slightly remodels the music in an attempt to make it more suitable for the concert-stage. The film went on to receive an Oscar nomination although without the visual element the music struggles to sustain its over-lengthy duration.

Elsewhere Anthony Collins’ arrangement of Liszt’s Christmas Tree Suite is another pleasant curiosity whilst the Massenet is beautifully played by solo cellist Matthew Lee.

The Christmas Overtures of Otto Nicolai and Coleridge-Taylor fail to hit the spot despite the best efforts of the BBC Concert Orchestra and Barry Wordsworth to inject enthusiasm into what is somewhat uninspired music. Overall however, this does not detract from a largely appealing CD that is worth its modest price tag simply for the pleasure of the Philip Lane contributions.

Orchestra, singers and conductor are on good form throughout and the recording lives up to the increasingly consistent standards that we have come to expect from Naxos.

Christopher Thomas


see also review by Dominy Clements


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