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The Musical Advent Calendar - 24 songs for Advent and Christmas
(See end of review for list of works and performers)
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC 98.553 [74:33]

 

 

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On Christmas Night
(See end of review list of works)
Ralph Rousseau (viola da gamba); Lenny Kuhr (vocalist)
rec. Hoogland Catholic Church, 31 August 2006; “De Glindster”, De Glind, 23 April 2009
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72340 [44:35]

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Christmas Songs
(See end of review for list of works)
Ida Falk Winland (soprano)
Linné Brass Quintet with members of the Uppsala Chamber Orchestra
Orphei Drängar male-voice choir/Cecilia Rydinger Alin
rec. Uppsala University Hall, Sweden, February 2009
text and English translations included
BIS-CD-1833 [65:22]

Experience Classicsonline



 
Every Christmas seems to bring a new crop of seasonal discs, most following well-worn paths through the gigantic harvest of Christmas music. Many indeed sound virtually interchangeable in their programmes and style of performance. That’s fine and for many people Christmas is a time to salute and celebrate the familiar, but if you want something a little different but not too much so, then one or more of these three discs from Germany, Holland and Sweden may be just what you are after.
 
The first – The Musical Advent Calendar – is based on the excellent idea of including an item for each day of December before Christmas. As in a real Advent Calendar the “pictures” are varied but seasonal and, as in the best Calendars, they may sometimes surprise but more often elicit a pleasant sigh of recognition. I gather that this is the most recent in a series of discs produced by South West German Radio, who broadcast individual items on the appropriate days. They showcase a wide variety of choirs and instrumentalists from the region with a strong emphasis on younger performers. As a demonstration of the pool of talent available in the region it is impressive. Maybe none of the individual performances is truly outstanding but it is good to hear that such a wide range of talented choirs, soloists and ensembles exists in the area. In the booklet the item for each day is attributed to a particular area, town or organization and presumably when they are shown on SWR Television appropriate pictures are included. It would have been good to have had something along those lines in the booklet, although it does give brief background information about the performers in German and English. Information about the music is much sparser, however. The sixth track for instance is simply described as an Allegro from a Concerto in C major by Vivaldi, leaving the listener to guess which one has been transcribed (rather well) for vibraphone and organ, and there is no indication that track nine is in fact part of Bach’s Magnificat arranged (rather ineffectually) for brass. As one of the features of an Advent Calendar can be to surprise the viewer, or in this case listener, perhaps this is no bad thing. I should also make the obvious comment that the contents of an Advent Calendar should be opened one at a time, not all at once as necessarily I have had to do. It is nonetheless enjoyable to hear as a whole even if this is not its main intention.
 
The contents of the disc do vary wildly in style and character. There are many charming examples of children’s choirs in a variety of music, items by very professional adult performers including the SWR Vokalensemble of Stuttgart, items by German pop artists singing Billie Holiday and Andrew Lloyd Webber idiomatically, and instrumental items. The latter include both the oddest items, such as the two I have mentioned already, and the most enjoyable, including the recorders on track 4. Overall this is a very mixed bag, obviously not intended for or suited to detached analytical listening but perhaps ideal as background for a family party. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope that some enterprising British company will take up the idea with a similar seasonal regional collection. One other virtue of the disc is that part of the proceeds from it will be used to support aid projects for children in South West Germany.
 
Over the years I have heard far too many discs of Christmas carols played or sung by every kind of choir, orchestra or band with every conceivable effect thrown in however inappropriate they may be. Too many have been the musical equivalent of eating too much over-rich Christmas pudding with too much brandy sauce. If you too have suffered from this kind of thing why not try a disc of carols played on an unaccompanied viola da gamba, with a vocalist joining in very occasionally. The idea may seem in principle to be at best mildly eccentric, and given the melancholy dignity of the instrument you might expect it to involve all the jollity of an orgy in a temperance hotel arranged by the Wee Frees. However what we get here is not merely unusual but also very enjoyable. It is the sheer musicality of Ralph Rousseau’s approach that is notable. Many of the mixture of English and Dutch carols are treated very simply and allowed to speak for themselves, although a few are allowed a freer treatment. My particular favourite is “White Christmas” which starts with a slow phrase which might easily begin a seventeenth century Tombeau. When repeated however it enlarges into the tune of the title. Pure and very musical magic! Four carols have Lenny Kuhr, winner of the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest, as vocalist. I must admit that her vocal tone is not very much to my taste so that for me these are the weakest parts of the disc, but even they are not unenjoyable. No texts or translations are included for the vocal items and there is less than 45 minutes of music but this is nonetheless one of the most original and enjoyable Christmas recordings I have heard for many years.
 
The Swedish male voice choir Orphei Drängar was formed in 1853 and has included Hugo Alfvén and Eric Ericson amongst their past conductors. Its nearly eighty members manage to avoid those characteristic faults of male voice choirs of sounding coarse when singing loudly, sounding flat when singing quietly and overdoing the vibrato in soulful passages. In fact they form a very fine musical instrument, able to turn to the very different demands of a programme ranging from Scandinavian works and arrangements of Swedish traditional Christmas music, to earlier works, and at the end a mixture of unfamiliar arrangements of familiar carols and Christmas music. Clearly care has gone into the ordering of the programme so that it is possible to listen to it continuously and feel some sort of coherent progress. I particularly enjoyed the Scandinavian items which include fine pieces by Nielsen, Palmgren and Lidholm as well as the opening item, “Koppången”, an arrangement with a solo soprano of a soulful fiddle tune to words describing a country church at Christmas. The two arrangements by Staffan Lindberg are of songs sung originally by Swedish boys around their villages on Boxing Day. Both incorporate a splendidly wild sounding percussion parts and the second also has brass slyly hinting at other carols.
 
The Sweelinck and Handel are enjoyable if far from authentic and the Whitacre and Golovanov are sung with great finesse and sense of line. The final selection of carols and Christmas songs is varied and sung in interesting and effective arrangements.
 
I enjoyed all three discs in different ways. The Advent Calendar is a good idea and delightfully varied even if the musical pleasures may be spread a little thinly. Christmas on the viol is both amusing and musically enjoyable. It would make a splendid present for a dyed in the wool early music fan or for listening at those “Bah humbug” times when suffering from an excess of commercial Christmas cheer. The real winner for me, however, is the Swedish disc of Christmas songs. Each item has been carefully chosen and is performed to its best advantage. There are good reasons for buying any of these but I would expect that this is to be one you are most likely to return to future years.
 

John Sheppard
 

 
The Musical Advent Calendar:
1 “Mach hoch die Tür” St-Martins-Chorknaben Biberach; Johannes Striegel (conductor) [2:05]
2 “A Clare Benediction” (John Rutter) Ulmer Spatzen Chor; Hans de Gilde (conductor); Barbara Comes (Piano) [2:45]
3 “Let it snow” (Jule Styne, Samme Cahn & Chris Walden) Paul Carrack (voice) SWR Big Band [2:30]
4 “Aria sopra la Bergamasca” (Marco Uccellini) Discorii Salonittieri (Annabell Opelt & Lina Alirezania – recorders, David Göbler – harpsichord) [3:57]
5 “O Happy Day” (Edwin Hawkings) Folklorechor Plochingen with percussion; Hans-Günter Driess (conductor) [3:24]
6 Allegro from Concerto in C major (Vivaldi) Ulrich Weissert (organ); Albrecht Volz (vibraphone) [4:01]
7 Méditation from “Thaïs” (Massenet) Christina-Anna Tsiakaris (violin); Rena Tsiakaris (piano) [4:56]
8 “Ave Maria” from the Vespers Op 37 (Rachmaninov) SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart; Marcus Creed (conductor) [2:51]
9 “Esurientes” from Magnificat BWV 243 (J S Bach) German Brass; Enrique Crespo (conductor) [2:41]
10 “Ihr Kinderlein kommet” (arranged Mathias Breitschaft) Mädchenchor am Dom und St Quintin; Isabelle Müller (harp); Karsten Storck (conductor) [4:14]
11 “God bless the child” (Billie Holiday & Arthur Herzog Jr) Sarah Lipfert (vocal); Bigband Brass & Fun; Bernhard Kölmel (conductor) [4:23]
12 “Es kommt ein Schiff geladen” Instrumental-Ensemble Chantal; Michael Hofmann (conductor) [2:29]
13 “Engel Gottes künden” (W A Mozart) Ensemble LaFillia; Martin Ramroth (conductor) [4:20]
14 “I don’t know how to love him” (Andrew Lloyd Webber) Hélène Lindqvist (soprano); Ariane Müller (piano) Patrick Wieland (guitar) [3:58]
15 “Abendsegen” from “Hänsel und Gretel” (Humperdinck) Evelyn Czesla (soprano); Even Maria Günschmann (mezzo-soprano); Christoph Jung (piano) [1:39]
16 “Leise rieselt der Schnee” Kinderchor der Staatsoper Stuttgart; Joannes Knecht (piano & conductor) [2:04]
17 “Virga Jesse” (Bruckner) Vokalensemble ’83; Bernard Leonardy (conductor) [3:15]
18 “Was soll das bedeuten?” (Trad arr Siegfried Strohbach) Kammerchor ex-semble Münchweiller; Christoph Hassler (conductor) [2:26]
19 “Hebe deine Augen auf” from “Elijah” (Mendelssohn) Konzertchor Via Nova Koblenz; Michael Fuxius (conductor) [1:42]
20 “Es weidet seine Herde” from “Messiah” (Handel) Thomas Hammes (trumpet); Christian Schmitt (organ) [4:19]
21 Largo from Winter from “The Four Seasons” (Vivaldi) Kyoko Tanino (violin); Junger Kammerorchester Konstanz; Wolfgang Mettler (conductor) [2:00]
22 “Inmitten der Nacht” (trad arr Karl Schnürl) Chor-Art Stuttgart; Regine Eccard (conductor) [1:21]
23 “In dulci jubilo” (Buxtehude) Anze Ganzenmüller (soprano); Ileana Mateescu (mezzo-soprano); Christian Rathgeber (tenor); Danilo Tepsa (continuo) [3:05]
24 “Tu scendi dalle stelle” (Alfonso Maria de Ligouri) Marshall & Alexander Kinderchor Päda-Sternchen; Pauline Floreani (flute); Petra Fohr-Floreani (piano) [2:03]
 
On Christmas Night
1 “Il est né le divin enfant” (trad)
2 “White Chiistmas” (Irving Berlin 1888-1989)
3 “Nu zijt wellokome” (trad)
4 “On Christmas night all Christians sing” (trad)
5 “The first Noel” (trad)
6 “Sterren” (Lenny Kuhr)
7 “Midden in de winternacht” (trad)
8 “De herdertjes lagen bij nachte” (trad)
9 “Adeste Fidelis” (trad)
10 “God rest you merry, gentlemen” (trad)
11 “O herders verlaat uw bokskens en schapen” (trad)
12 “Whilst shepherds watched their flocks” (trad)
13 “This endris night” (trad)
14 “’t is geboren” (trad)
15 “Laat nu alle droefheid vluchten” (trad)
16 “The Lord at first did Adam make” (trad)
17 “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (trad)
18 “Still, still, still” (trad)
19 “Jingle Bells” (John Pierpoint 1785-1866)
20 “Stille Nacht” (Franz Gruber 1787-1863)
 
Christmas Songs
1 “Koppången” (Pererik Moraeus b.1950) [5:15]
2 “Forundeligt at Sige” (Carl Nielsen 1865-1931) [2:30]
3 “Jul, Jul, Strålande Jul” (Gustav Nordqvist 1886-1949) [2:32]
4 “Hosiannah!” (Selim Palmgren 1878-1951) [3:05]
5 “Madonnans Vaggvisa” (Ingvar Lidholm b.1921) [2:25]
6 “Vittskövlevisan” (Trad arr Staffan Lindberg) [5:28]
7 “Staffansvisa från Orust” (Trad arr Staffan Lindberg) [2:42]
8 “Hodie Christus natus est” (Jan Sweelinck 1562-1621) [3:05]
9 “He shall feed his flock” (G F Handel 1685-1759) [4:33]
10 “Lux Aurumque” (Eric Whitacre b.1970) [3:59]
11 “Stille nacht” (Franz Gruber 1787-1863) [3:03]
12 “Dostóyno yest” (Nikolai Golovanov 1891-1953) [2:34]
13 “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (Michael Praetorius 1571-1621) [5:15]
14 “Joy to the world” (Lowell Mason 1792-1872) [1:24]
15 “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” (Hugh Martin b.1914 & Ralph Blane 1914-1995) [4:06]
16 The Christmas Song (Mel Tormé 1925-1999 & Robert Wells 1922-1998) [3:08]
17 “Hark! The herald Angels sing” (Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy 1809-1847) [3:07]
18 “God rest you merry, gentlemen” (Trad arr Per-Henning Olsson) [2:33]
19 “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day” (John Gardner b.1917) [1:48]

 


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