Christmas with London Brass
John F. WADE (C.1711-1786) Arr. Roger Harvey O come all ye faithful [2:46]
German traditional Arr. Roger Harvey Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen [2:01]
16th century French Arr. Roger Harvey Ding, Dong! Merrily on High [2:14]
William J. KIRKPATRICK (1838-1921) Arr. Roger Harvey Away in a manger [2:13]
15th century French Arr. Leslie Pearson Veni, veni, Emmanuel [3:41]
14th century German Arr. Simon Wills Quem pastores laudavere [5:37]
Polish traditional Arr. Roger Harvey Infant holy, Infant lowly [2:14]
John RUTTER (b. 1945) Arr. Roger Harvey Shepherd’s Pipe Carol [2:43]
16th century English Arr. Roger Harvey Coventry Carol [3:47]
German traditional Arr. Leslie Pearson In dulci jubilo [2:15]
English traditional Arr. Roger Harvey The first Nowell [2:33]
Franz GRUBER (1787-1863) Arr. Simon Wills Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht [3:50]
Basque traditional Arr. Roger Harvey Gabriel’s Message [2:02]
Lowell MASON (1792-1872) Arr. Andrew Crowley Joy to the World [1:58]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Arr. Roger Harvey Winter” from The Four Seasons (Allegro non molto [3:28]; Largo [1:56]; Allegro [3:13])
Richard Storrs WILLIS (1819-1900) Arr. Roger Harvey It came upon the midnight clear
Arr. Roger Harvey Festive Cheer [6:35]
London Brass/Roger Harvey
rec. St. Barnabas Church, Woodside Park, April 1990. DDD

At first glance this Warner Classics re-release of a 1990 Teldec disc appears to have few redeeming features. The title of Christmas with London Brass is hardly imaginative or inspiring, the packaging is equally bland and despite the fact that the music itself needs little introduction, the liner-notes are no more than a running list of the carols on offer.

Perhaps the only useful feature of the liner is a listing of the London Brass players involved and an impressive “who’s who” of some of the UK’s finest brass-playing talent it is.

London Brass has its origins in the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, the group re-naming itself following the retirement of its founder in 1986. Several of those players that were closely involved with the original group were still actively involved in 1990. Amongst them were Frank Lloyd on French Horn and trombonist David Purser, the latter recently having retired from his long standing role as principal trombone with the London Sinfonietta.

The vast majority of the arrangements on the disc are the work of another trombonist and former PJBE member Roger Harvey, with a handful of further contributions from another leading trombonist, Simon Wills, trumpeter Andrew Crowley and Leslie Pearson who also appears on the recording in the form of organist in some of the more weighty arrangements.

The nineteen arrangements featured range from the familiar and traditional fare of carols such as Silent Night and O come all ye faithful, via one of John Rutter’s most popular modern takes on the medium in the delightful Shepherd’s Pipe Carol, to Winter from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. By and large, all are effectively transcribed for the medium with varying degrees of licence in terms of harmonic and melodic elaboration.

In the case of favourites such as The First Nowell and O Come all ye Faithful, relatively little is done to deviate from what we have come to expect, albeit the latter having been embellished with a rousing fanfare to commence. Leslie Pearson’s arrangement of O Come Emmanuel on the other hand gives us what amounts to a fantasia on the ancient melody, whilst in one of a select handful of skilful arrangements by Simon Wills another ancient melody, Quem Pastores Laudavere is presented as a prelude and fugue with several other carols woven into the texture along the way. Listen out for the same arranger’s gently witty, Satie-esque treatment of Silent Night, with the melody as you have never heard it before.

Elsewhere Roger Harvey takes The Coventry Carol, a sonorous melody well suited to the majestic sounds of London Brass, and gives it a striking martial central climax, with Gabriel’s Message being placed within a similar renaissance style context, elaborated with a fine contribution from piccolo trumpet.

With a group of performers as talented as this, the playing is second to none and although some non-hardened brass enthusiasts might find the disc a little much to take at one sitting, this is one of those Christmas discs that should provide considerable enjoyment when dipping into over a mince pie from time to time during any Festive season.

Christopher Thomas