A Finnish Christmas R. RAALA (1886-1971)
Joulukirkkoon [2.33] James PIERPOINT (1822-1893)
Jingle Bells [3.36] Pekka SIMOJOKI (b. 1958)
May Christmas Come [4.58] Leevi MADETOJA (1887-1947)
Arkihoulesi Kaikki Heitä [4.13] Trad. – J. F. COOTS (1897-1985)
Santa Lucia - Santa Claus is Coming to Town [5.12] Johnny MARKS (1909-1985)
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer [4.28] Irving BERLIN (1888-1989)
White Christmas [4.28] Lyyli WARTIOVAARA-KALLIONEMI (1887-1970)
Tontuu [6.38] Trad. Puuropotpuri
[3.38] Katherine K. DAVIS – Trad. (1892-1929)
The Little Drummer Boy – Joy to the World [5.50] Trad. Entre le
Boeuf et l’Ane Gris [3.37] Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
En Etsi Valtaa, Loistoa [3.46] George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Rejoice, O Daughter of Zion [4.44] Jaakko KUUSISTO (b.
Jouluevankeliumi [9.59] Ikka KUUSISTO (b.
Tule Hiutale [3.44]; Minun Jouluni [2.21] Harry AHMAS (b. 1957)
Me Hohteen Kirkkaimman Näimme [6.13]
Perko (saxophone); Riki Sorsa (vocals); Laulupuu Choir
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Esa Heikkilä
rec. January/May 2008, Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland BIS BIS-CD-1747 [80.00]
people, nominally adult, still retain a child-like delight
in Christmas. I am one of those people, which is why I
was delighted to receive this disc for review so far into
the New Year that the festive season had almost been forgotten.
Thanks to the admirable BIS policy of not deleting their
recordings, readers can be sure that it will still be available
to raise the spirits next year.
said that, the disc is not at all what I expected, nor
is it a typical BIS production. Perhaps the best way of
introducing it is to quote from the record company’s website:
the exception of a few misguided Swedes, we all know
that Santa Claus lives in Finland. So what could be more
fitting than a disc of Finnish Christmas classics, in
lavish orchestral arrangements performed by the Lahti
Symphony Orchestra, only 240 miles south of Santa’s home
orchestral arrangements” is no exaggeration! There’s plenty
of percussion – wood block, xylophones, tambourines and
other jingly things – plus a liberal helping of harp, rich
brass and soaring strings. Most of the music is sung by
the Laulupuu Choir, a group based in Lahti and made up
of young people between the ages of ten and seventeen,
but there are some solos too, as well as purely orchestral
pieces. The repertoire is made up of arrangements of traditional
material, some original light pieces plus works from more
conventionally classical composers, but for quite a long
time I seemed to be listening to a disc of extracts from
musical comedies rather than specifically Christmas music.
is some superb saxophone playing from Jukka Perko in the
fourth piece, a work by Madetoja about which this listener
would have liked more help from the accompanying notes.
This is a complaint one might level against the disc as
a whole, interesting and fun though the booklet essay is.
Perko appears again in Irving Berlin’s evergreen White
Christmas, in the arrangement of Sibelius’s En etsi
valtaa, Loistoa as well as, most surprisingly, playing
some snatches of Handel in an arrangement entitled Rejoice,
O Daughter of Zion which veers alarmingly from jazz
to pure show-biz through cod-baroque … and back again.
I assume it is the Leader of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra
who so adroitly provides the solo, Stéphane Grappelli-style,
in Santa Claus is Coming to Town, preceded as it
is by a hauntingly lovely arrangement of the Italian folk
song Santa Lucia.
rhapsodic, almost symphonic arrangement of The Little
Drummer Boy leads into Joy to the World, and
you won’t need particularly sharp ears to hear the vestiges
of the drummer boy in the second part of the arrangement.
And having conducted Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris with
French choirs myself on numerous Christmas occasions over
the past twenty years, I was a bit bemused by this Finnish
version, to the point where I don’t think I would have
recognised it had the title not been translated in the
booklet. It’s a beautiful arrangement, though, for unaccompanied
children’s choir, most successful and atmospheric.
are a couple of longer original pieces, including Jouluevankeliumi,
a setting of the Nativity story from St. Luke by Jaakko
Kuusisto. This is melodious, undemanding music which, like
the rest of the disc, is quite superbly sung by the Laulupuu
Choir. Always beautifully in tune, with plenty of zest
when required, these young singers give the impression
that they are thoroughly enjoying themselves, as does,
for that matter, each and ever member of the Lahti Symphony
Orchestra. As for the sound quality, I think this is one
of the most beautiful recordings I’ve ever encountered,
though I seem to find that each time I hear a BIS CD.
who could ask for more at Christmas? Well, it’s not the
collection of arrangements of Finnish traditional Christmas
songs I was expecting, and potential purchasers should
be forewarned about those lavish arrangements. Some might
think it all rather twee, or that a little goes a long
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