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We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Various Artists
rec. various ADD/DDD. No texts or translations provided
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6738 [54:26]

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Roberto ALAGNA (b. 1963)

Gentil père Noël (arr. Robin Smith) 1 [2:36]
Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621)

Recessional: ‘In dulci jubilo’ from Polyhymnia caduceatrix 2 [5:28]
Irving BERLIN (1888-1989)

White Christmas (orch. Robert Russell Bennett) 3 [5:01]
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787-1863)

Stille Nacht (orch. André Rieu, Gerardus J. M. Jo Huijts) 4 [3:49]
John Francis WADE (1711-1786)

Adeste Fideles (arr. Douglas Gamley) 5 [3:38]
Gustaf NORDQVIST (1886-1949)
Nu är advent 6 [2:17]
Giuseppe TORELLI (1658-1709)

Christmas Concerto, Op. 8 No. 6. I. Grave – Vivace 7 [3:53]
Ariel RAMIREZ (b. 1921)
Sanctus from Missa Criolla 8 [2:19]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) / Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Ave Maria (arr. Robert Sadin) 9 [2:47]
Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621)

Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen 10 [2:44]
Jester HAIRSTON (1901-2000)

Mary's Boy Child 11 [3:40]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)

Siciliana from Antiche danze ed arie per liuto (Suite III) 12 [3:26]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Jauchzet, frohlocket from Christmas Oratorio BWV248 13 [7:45]

Ding Dong! Merrily on High (arr. Charles Wood) 14 [2:04]
James PIERPONT (1822-1893) / Traditional / Leroy ANDERSON (1908-1975)

Sleigh Ride Medley: Jingle Bells, Deck the Hall, Sleigh Ride 15 [2:59]
1 &15 Roberto Alagna (tenor), The Choir of St John’s, The New London Children’s Choir, The London Oratory School Choir, Smithills Junior School Choir, London Symphony Orchestra/Robin Smith
2 Susan Hemington Jones, Tessa Bonner (sopranos), Mark Le Brocq (tenor), Boys’ Choir and Congregational Choir of Roskilde Cathedral (directors: Kristian Olesen & Finn Evald), Gabrieli Consort & Players/Paul McCreesh
3 Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone), Philharmonia Orchestra/Paul Daniel
4 André Rieu and His Johann Strauss Orchestra
5 Luciano Pavarotti (tenor), London Voices, The National Philharmonic Orchestra/Kurt Herbert Adler
6 Ann Sofie von Otter (soprano), Bengt Forsberg (piano)
7 &12 Berliner Philharmoniker/Herbert von Karajan
8 José Carreras (tenor), instrumentalists, Coral Salvé de Laredo, Sociedad Coral de Bilbao/José Luis Ocejo
9 Plácido Domingo (tenor), Orchestra Sinfonico di Milano Giuseppe Verdi/Marcello Viotto
10 Regensburger Domspatzen/Georg Ratzinger
11 Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
13 The Monteverdi Choir, The English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
14 Choir of Westminster Abbey/Simon Preston

It’s that time of year again and DG have selected yet another batch of seasonal ‘lollipops’ from their back catalogue. If you prefer more unusual Christmas fare then this disc probably isn’t for you. That said, DG have quite a range of talent to fall back on, so even though this collection is entirely predictable the music is bound to be well played and sung …. well, most of it anyway.

There is absolutely no information in the liner-notes, apart from the track-listings; this is a pity, as I know nothing about Alagna’s Gentil père Noël. It is a fizzing, big-band-style piece, with the tenor in fine fettle … and very much to the fore. I enjoyed it so much I immediately played it again. There is also a warm, seasonal glow to the orchestra and voices, which makes it even more irresistible.

The more astringent baroquerie of In dulce jubilo could hardly be more different. There is a ceremonial gravitas that is most appropriate, with the chorus and soloists set in a deep, atmospheric soundstage. Anyone who has heard Paul McCreesh before will recognise his special brand of music-making, lithe and well-sprung, with a wonderful sense of occasion. His ‘authentic’ approach works very well in this music, especially with the distinctive brass choirs and drums. And what a thrilling finale, with the organ bringing it all to a magisterial close.

That perennial Bing Crosby favourite, White Christmas, gets the operatic treatment from Bryn Terfel. He has such a big, dark voice – perhaps not ideal for this music – and a somewhat arch style of delivery. At least Paul Daniel and the Philharmonia respond with some sumptuous playing. By contrast Stille nacht gets a slightly kitsch performance from André Rieu and his Strauss band. The arrangement is a little too rich for my taste but the tune’s magic remains intact. Again, a pleasantly warm and inviting acoustic.

The late-lamented Luciano Pavarotti is in ringing form in Adeste fideles. That vocal timbre is unmistakable, his ardour undimmed. The recording sounds a little elderly – the orchestra and choirs are set quite far back – but the tenor sounds very youthful indeed. The piece is ends with a flurry of bells.

DG’s website claims Gustaf Nordqvist’s Nu är advent is ‘previously unreleased material’. It may not sound especially festive but it’s always a pleasure to hear the characterful, creamy tones of Ann Sofie von Otter. As always, Bengt Forsberg has a light but telling touch. The same cannot be said of Karajan’s bloated Christmas Concerto; whatever quibbles one might have about period performances this kind of streamlined, big-band baroque playing sounds very odd today. That said, the Berlin strings are at their silky best, the whole ensemble highly polished.

This music couldn’t be further from the Latin rhythms of the Sanctus from the Missa Criolla. This strikes me as an odd choice, not least because it is so short and it sounds as if it has been plucked at random from a much larger work. Carreras is rather plaintive but makes the most of his undemanding solo. Ditto Domingo, who sails through the oversweet Ave Maria, with its jumbo-sized harps and lush harmonies.

Praetorius gets another outing with the lovely unaccompanied Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen. It may be relatively slight but it’s movingly sung by the Regensburgers. Also a bit of a lightweight is Mary’s Baby Boy, which Terfel delivers in a somewhat overbearing fashion. At least pianist Malcolm Martineau plays with a compensating restraint, the piano sounding warm and clear.

It’s second time round for Karajan as well, with the Siciliana from Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances. The well-upholstered orchestra sounds surprisingly aggressive here, the neo-baroque style of the piece smothered by too many layers of orchestral gloss; a bit of a turkey, I’m afraid. Much more refreshing is the excerpt from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio played by John Eliot Gardiner and his period forces. What a striking contrast this makes: alert, crisp, transparent. A little tart, perhaps – accentuated by the brittle treble – but invigorating nonetheless.

Rather more Christmassy is Ding dong! Merrily on High, which gets a thoroughly idiomatic performance from the choristers of Westminster Abbey. Fortunately the bright treble, noted in the Bach, has been tamed, and in the medley that follows Alagna’s delightfully accented carols are a real treat. In fact the whole piece teems with energy and high spirits.

So, not everything in this stocking is worth hearing – least of all the glutinous baroque from Berlin – but the rest is genial enough. Alagna’s own piece is the big surprise and the Praetorius is worth investigating in more detail. I imagine this CD will be played in the background over Christmas as a kind of festive wallpaper. If that’s what you want then this collection should fit the bill.

Dan Morgan


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