Another Night Before Christmas and Scrooge John FOX (b.1926)
Carol Fantasia [6:18] Bryan KELLY (b.1934)
*Scrooge [19:47] Philip LANE (b.1950)
+Old Christmas Music [12:11]
*Another Night Before Christmas [6:00] Matthew CURTIS (b.1959)
Christmas Rush - Concert March [4:23] Vladimir REBIKOV (1866-1920)
+Waltz [2:25] Franz LISZT (1811-1886),orch. Gordon JACOB and Philip LANE
The Christmas Tree Suite [13:37] Adam SAUNDERS (b.1968)
+Fairytale Sleighride [4:37] Angela MORLEY (1923-2009)
Snowride [3:43] Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893),
orch. Philip LANE
Troika [3:07] Thomas Hewitt JONES (b.1984)
Christmas Cracker [3:11]
*Simon Callow (narrator)
RTÉ Concert Orchestra/Gavin Sutherland
+Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
rec. RTÉ Radio Centre, Dublin, 25-26 January 2011 [RTÉ CO]; Angel
Studios, London, 7 January 2008, 4 May 2011 [RBS]. DDD
NAXOS 8.572744 [79:20]
Conceptually this release is a bit of an oddity, as the rather un-Naxosy cover suggests, but Christmas is a time of surprises. Most of the music on this festively generous disc lies well within the boundaries of light music, and rightly so, many will consider. Adam Saunders' Fairytale Sleighride, Angela Morley's MGM-esque Snowride, even Philip Lane's treacly arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Troika (from his piano suite The Seasons), all fall into this category, but each is well-crafted and likely to please those game for seasonal merriment.
Matthew Curtis's Christmas Rush is more Ealing than MGM, has excellent brass band potential and is one of the instrumental highlights of the disc, along with Gordon Jacob's fine orchestration, seamlessly added to by Philip Lane, of some of the pieces from Liszt's not-always-Christmassy Weihnachtsbaum suite for piano. Lane's own Old Christmas Music adroitly brings the distant past into the present in an easily digestible form. John Fox's Carol Fantasia is a straightforward medley of chestnuts; it is Christmas Cracker by Thomas Hewitt Jones, former BBC Young Composer competition winner, that is the best of the various carol arrangements, bringing the CD to an appropriately rousing end.
The two works which give the disc its ungainly title both have parts for narrator, in this case the eminently dependable Simon Callow. Lane's Another Night Before Christmas sets a familiar children's poem slightly modernised by Carol Ann Duffy. Again, Lane's music is a bit syrupy, the piano part rather clichéd, but families will enjoy Callow's avuncular reading of the genial poem in any case. Brian Kelly's compression of Dickens' much-loved Scrooge story is in another league, dramatically and evocatively orchestrated. Kelly's Improvisations on Christmas Carols was one of the best works on a previous Naxos release of Christmas music, which also featured a couple of pieces by Philip Lane and Victor Hely-Hutchinson's sine qua non of the genre, A Carol Symphony - see review. Scrooge is sparklingly read by Callow, whose narration alternates with the music, giving diminutive listeners ample space to follow the story. In fact, Kelly's version goes no further than the Ghost of Christmas Past and turns the final third of the work into general rejoicing at the Fezziwigs' Christmas ball. Before you can say "What the Dickens?", everyone is having a marvellous Christmas, just as it should be.
The recording is very good, especially the RTÉ tracks. Philip Lane's liner notes briefly summarise the composers and their pieces, intriguingly describing himself in the third person in the process. In sum, a good stocking-filler or cockle-warmer, and a lot more appealing than Christmas telly.
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