Christmas Goes Baroque: A Musical Tour of Switzerland, Germany & Belgium
Christmas Music in the Style of Bach, Handel & Vivaldi, arranged by Peter Breiner
Silent Night [3:38]
We Wish You a Merry Christmas [3:28]
Jingle Bells [4:36]
Kommet, Ihr Hirten [3:58]
Alle Jahre Wieder [3:02]
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen [7:00]
Kling, Glöckchen [4:39]
The First Nowell [3:11]
O Du Fröhliche [4:38]
Jolly Old St Nicholas [2:57]
Adeste, Fideles [3:02]
O Tannenbaum [4:24]
Good King Wenceslas [3:35]
Slovak State Philharmonic/Peter Breiner
rec. (music) House of Arts, Košice, May 1989. DDD
NTSC 4:3. PCM Stereo 2.0 / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1. Region: 0 (worldwide). DVD
NAXOS DVD 2.110546 [54:28]
Fifty-four minutes is hardly a generous running time for a CD, let alone a DVD, but this is essentially a re-release, slightly edited, of an early Naxos CD of the same title (8.550301), now with added visuals. The DVD itself was released about a decade ago with a different cover.
There are thirteen chapters of music and film, averaging about four minutes each. As a travelogue this disc is, in truth, fairly dull throughout, consisting of slow, almost stationary shots of festive objects and scenes, with the images ranging from the twee or quaint to the clichéd and almost mindless - for example, daftly romanticised Nativity sets for children, or shots of soft toy kangaroos and leopards.
The amount of time the camera lingers on its subjects harks back to an earlier time, before attention spans started halving every year, especially those of TV and film editors. Twenty seconds staring at a candle burning on a tree or a garnished pair of dead fish on a bed of ice will surely be too big an ask of any youngsters in the audience. There is also an undue emphasis on Zurich, not one of Europe's most beautiful cities by any stretch. The DVD's opening gambit, Zurich by night - commercial buildings with rows of white Christmas lights dangling off them - does not make for compelling viewing. Shrouded in mist by day in the next chapter, the city is hardly improved, and only Breiner's Christmassy music is likely to prevent viewers from hitting the 'skip track' button. With the end credits the reason for the Zurich bias becomes apparent: the film was made by a Zurich-based company!
At least, though, the whole makes for inoffensive family-friendly viewing, more than can be said of most Christmas TV nowadays. Grandma will probably enjoy it most, and young children will doubtless like the bits of it that feature toyshop displays.
Peter Breiner has a huge discography, both as a conductor and as arranger extraordinaire. He does tend to focus his talent on the lighter - some might say shabbier - side of music, churning out arrangements of pop tunes for orchestra, such as Naxos's 'Elvis Goes Baroque' (8.990054) and 'The Beatles Go Baroque' (8.555010), conceptions for which there can be no rational explanation.
At least on 'Christmas Goes Baroque' Breiner has gone with imitations of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi - and done pretty well, on the whole, even though such things have been undertaken numerous times before. The carols selected are for the most part guaranteed winners throughout December, and Breiner's arrangements ought to genuinely delight those desperate to escape the commercial onslaught of Christmas-mentioning pop songs that were past their sell-by date the first December 27th after they came out, whether ten or fifty years ago. True, eyebrows are likely to be raised, by those with enough post-prandial strength, at God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, which Breiner has turned into a long, slow dirge, but O Tannenbaum and Adeste, Fideles have been given an interesting makeover, 'genuinely' in the style of Vivaldi and Handel respectively. Moreover, considering the disc was recorded in May, the tracks are performed with adequate seasonal spirit by the Slovak State Philharmonic, some fine solo efforts included.
Recording quality is good. The booklet has as much detail as anyone is likely to be interested in at Christmas - additional information can easily be had by consulting the original CD, the notes for which are always available on the Naxos website, which, incidentally, somewhat bizarrely lists Bach, Handel and Vivaldi as 'composers' for this disc!
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Inoffensive family-friendly viewing, more than can be said of most Christmas TV nowadays.