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A Piano Christmas in the 1920s
1. Holiday by the Fireside 1928 [3:30]
2. Christmas Carols No. 1 [4:25]
3. Christmas Carols No. 2 1928 [6:37]
4. Christmas Greeting 1925 [5:30]
5. Christmas Greetings 1929 [9:51
6. Parade of the Wooden Soldiers [2:58]
7. Grandmother's Christmas 1927 [9:16]
8. Toy Soldier's March [2:09]
9. The First Noel [3:21]
10. Gesu Bambino [4:55]
11. A Christmas Eve Fantasy 1928 [9:22]
Pianists: 1 - unknown, 2 - Andrei Kmita, 3 - Elsie Holt, 4, 5 & 7 - Adam Carroll, 6 - Herbert Clair & Edgar Fairchild, 8 - Fritz Kreisler, 9 - John Tasker Howard, 10 - Pietro Yon, 11 - Leslie Loth
rec. Ampico rolls in the 1920s
Experience Classicsonline

Fortunately this arrived for review as the Seasonal festivities began and I was able to enjoy an hour’s worth of 1920s Ampico pleasure, snuggling by the fireside and watching Woolworth’s collapse, banks nationalised, Ponzi schemes reappear, and all the other delights that have made 2008 so special. Oddly enough there is a roll of Christmas Greetings 1929, that dread year, in this disc played by Adam Carroll, so perhaps things haven’t changed all that much.
Because this is a disc of Ampico piano rolls, made during the 1920s, and played by some of the popular supremos of the genre - and one or two surprise visitors as well. Medleys of Christmas carols and popular songs were very much de rigeur and if you couldn’t play the piano yourself – or lacked the stamina – then a piano roll would do just as well.
With a canny eye for the market Ampico released a medley roll each Christmas. The first track dates from 1928 and is played, unusually, by an anonymous pianist. Holiday by the Fireside is pleasant if rather repetitious. Many of the medleys were arranged by the performers themselves – in some cases composed by them too – and Andrei Kmita almost certainly arranged his medley of Christmas Carols. The Hungarian sounding pianist was actually Howard Brockway, a prolific roll performer from way back. There are in fact a number of pseudonymous artists in this field as the feminine, rather blue stockinged Elsie Holt is actually Leslie Loth (the former is an anagram of the latter).  He essays the carol What Child is This?, which turns out to be Greensleeves. Adam Carroll played the 1925 Christmas Greeting as well as that for 1929. Strangely no roll number is given for this one, though it’s played with sonorous and old fashioned charm – except for a Rag interpretation of Jingle Bells! His 1929 effort by the way is rather different – perhaps as befits the times. These are sentimental parlour favourites not carols and over-extended and just a bit grandiose in conception.
Rather more direct and no-nonsense is his 1927 Grandmother’s Christmas selection – a big array of favourites including Turkey in the Straw, Silver Threads Among the Gold and Love’s Old Sweet Song. Here Carroll is on snappy, forthright and pleasurable form. The pianist on the next rag is the composer of Toy Soldier’s March, none other than Fritz Kreisler, a very competent pianist. Those reveille calls would fight off over-indulgence. John Tasker Howard, later a writer and editor, left only four rolls for Ampico and we hear one of them, of The First Noel - sonorous and full toned. Composer Pietro Yon plays his own famous Gesu Bambino with verismo strength. And to close we have the prolific Loth once more, dispensing Boccherini and Gounod for Christmas Eve 1928 and appropriately ending his selection with Auld Lang Syne.
I enjoyed the well-researched notes. The transfers are digital using a 1929 Haines Brothers Ampico reproducing piano owned by collector Thomas Venturella. I can never acclimatise myself to the inherent problems of the roll system, as previously related in many of my reviews on the subject, but it matters less here in this enjoyable and unabashed collection.
Jonathan Woolf


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