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A Christmas Celebration
Hallé Choir; Hallé Youth Choir; Hallé Children’s Choir;
Hallé Orchestra/Stephen Bell
rec. live The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 21 December 2014 and Hallé St Peters, Manchester, 3-4 July 2014. DDD.
Texts not included.
HALLÉ CDHLL7545 [76:04]

Marc Rochester reviewed this back in September before even the large stores and restaurants wheeled out their festive decorations: mid-October seems to be the start of Christmas nowadays.  Visiting the same territory in early December is a less surreal experience, which is why I probably found the treacly bits, such as the clap-along Sleigh Ride – interpolated bits of Rudolf the red-nosed Reindeer and all – and the closing We wish you a merry Christmas more palatable.  In preparing my Christmas recommendations I must have heard the latter a dozen times or more in various formats.

Of all the albums that I reviewed there none encouraged me to let my (now almost non-existent) hair down as much as this.  The only item which I did find rather too sugary was Somewhere in my Memory (track 6): I’m sure that most hearts will be warmed by the children singing this sentimental music and that I’m being really grumpy to ask you to include me out.  (I’m highly disappointed to discover that Samuel Goldwyn denied ever having uttered those words.)  I’m normally a great fan of John Williams (all of them) but not of this tune from Home Alone – or of the parent movie, for that matter.  I could also have done without the ante-penultimate evocation of Christmas on the Beach at Waikiki, though it understandably evokes a good deal of applause.

The centre point of the programme on track 8 is John Rutter’s Angels’ Carol, not a piece which gets too many outings, so I was pleased to hear and enjoy it.  It’s also available on a mostly-Rutter collection from Polyphony and the City of London Sinfonia directed by Stephen Layton on Hyperion CDA67245 1.  I very much like that album but the Hallé rendition is enjoyable in a different way.  I know that there are those who cannot abide Rutter and that if I dislike Somewhere in my Memory, Angel’s Carol should seem equally twee, but it just doesn’t, perhaps owing to the sensitive performance.

There’s Rutter’s influence at work, too, in the opening Nigel Hess Christmas Overture, composed at Rutter’s suggestion in 2007.  It’s Radio 2 Friday Night is Music Night territory but surely Christmas is the season for that sort of crossover repertoire as well as the more serious stuff.  Two of my favourite Yuletide numbers are Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols2 and Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s 1927 Carol Symphony (Naxos 8.557099, with other Christmas confections – reviewreview) and this is music in that vein.  So, too, is the one première on this recording, Roderick Elms’ enjoyable romp predictably entitled Noel (track 5).

Some of the items may yield to my favourite recordings.  No-one does the music of Leroy Anderson better than Anderson himself and even the enjoyable performance of Sleigh Ride can’t quite match the master himself on Naxos Classical Archives 9.80763 – see 2016 Christmas recommendations.

The recording is very good throughout, with little appreciable difference between the live items and those recorded earlier.  The booklet is informative, though not about the dates of Richard Bissill, which neither Marc Rochester nor I were able to determine and which don’t even feature on his website.  I suppose that the lack of texts is of minor importance in this case: probably some of them are copyright.

Overall this is one of the most enjoyable of the many Christmas offerings that I sampled this year. 

1 Bargain-hunters will find several tracks from that album, though not Angels’ Carol, on an attractive and varied download-only sampler from Hyperion: A Christmas Present from Polyphony (NOEL2 - just £4.50 in mp3 or 16-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).

2 With Hodie on Naxos 8.570439 – review.  The Barry Rose version mentioned there is available at budget price on Warner 5674272, also with Hodie.  Also included in the Magdalen College Oxford collection OACD9022D, reviewed in my 2016 Christmas recommendations and with other Vaughan Williams Christmas music conducted by Richard Hickox on Chandos CHAN10385 – review.

Brian Wilson

Previous reviews: Marc Rochester ~ Michael Cookson

Track details
Nigel HESS (b.1953) A Christmas Overture [7:27]
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856) O Holy Night [6:20]
John GARDNER (1917-2011) Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day [1:55]
arr. Robert Lucas de PEARSALL (1795-1856) In dulci jubilo [4:07]
Roderick ELMS (b.1951) Noel * [4:05]
John WILLIAMS (b.1932) Somewhere in my Memory [3:41]
Adam SAUNDERS (b.1968) Fairytale Sleighride [4:35]
John RUTTER (b.1945) Angels’ Carol [3:17]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Winter Bonfire, Op.122 – Waltz [3:19]
arr. Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) Personent Hodie [2:31]
John IRELAND (1879-1962) The Holy Boy [3:01]
Elizabeth POSTON (1905-1987) Jesus Christ the Apple Tree [3:08]
Richard BISSILL (?) A Christmas Carnival (1986) [11:01]
Harold DARKE (1888-1976) In the Bleak Mid-winter [4:53]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) The Snow-Maiden – Dance of the Tumblers [4:03]
Marta KEEN (b.1953) Christmas on the Beach at Waikiki [3:29]
Leroy ANDERSON (1908-1975) Sleigh Ride [3:09]
arr. Arthur WARRELL (1900-1975) We Wish You a Merry Christmas [2:01]

* world première recording

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