Hallé - A Christmas Celebration
Hallé Choir, Hallé Youth Choir, Hallé Children’s Chorus
Hallé/Stephen Bell
rec. live, 21 December 2014 Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; studio July 2014 Hallé St. Peter’s, Ancoats, Manchester
No texts provided
HALLÉ CDHLL7545 [76.04]

The Hallé certainly enjoys its Christmas concerts. It’s the time when all the Hallé family – the Orchestra, Choir, Youth Choir and Children’s Choir – traditionally gather together in Manchester for its annual Carol Concerts to celebrate joyously the Christmas season. Here on this album, Hallé - A Christmas Celebration, conductor Stephen Bell has assembled eighteen Christmas-themed works from across the ages, many popular favourites and several not so well known, including of course traditional carols.

There are several works that I particularly enjoyed and that make a special impression. The booklet notes state that “you can’t start a concert without a stirring overture” and here the collection kicks off with Nigel Hess’s A Christmas Overture. Hess is best known as a composer of television theme music, notably for Ladies in Lavender and Hetty Wainthropp Investigates. He provides here a rousing instrumental cornucopia of well known Christmas melodies such as Ding Dong Merrily on High, The Twelve Days of Christmas and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. A highlight is the traditional Christmas song In Dulci Jubilo. Thought to originate from the fourteenth century in a German Monastery, it is sung affectingly in a lovely choral arrangement by Robert Pearsall. Next comes a world premiere recording: Noel! for organ and orchestra by Roderick Elms, written especially for the Hallé. It’s another medley on Christmas carols, including ‘Sussex CarolOn Christmas night all Christians sing, I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In) and Of the Father's Love Begotten, making an uplifting “festive romp.”

New to me is John Rutter’s AngelsCarol. Infused with that characteristic Rutter memorability, it is most beautifully sung by the choir. Yet another splendid instrumental medley of carols, A Christmas Carnival by Richard Bissill, is a delight, featuring the much loved Silent Night, Good King Wenceslas and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Striking is the way Bissell has given the work a strong flavour of the Hollywood Musical from between the wars. Heartily irresistible is Leroy Anderson celebrated instrumental Sleigh Ride, with the enthusiastic audience clapping the catchy theme. Delightfully sung by the choir is Harold Darke’s glorious music to Christina Rossetti’s text In The Bleak Midwinter, and who can fail to be put in the Christmas spirit after hearing the Hallé perform Arthur Warrell’s arrangement of the carol We Wish You A Merry Christmas?

The recordings are from 2014, made either in studio conditions at Hallé St. Peter’s or live at a Bridgewater Hall Christmas Concert, where the applause has been retained. The sound is first class with a splendid balance between orchestra and choirs. The accompanying booklet includes some concise information about the works but no sung texts are provided.

As I have come to expect the Hallé choral and orchestral forces under Stephen Bell are in sterling form. This often uplifting and often comforting programme is a wonderful way to help celebrate Christmas.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Marc Rochester

Track listing
1. Nigel Hess - A Christmas Overture [7.27]
2. Adam arr. Battiwalla - O Holy Night [6.20]
3. John Gardner - Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day [1.55]
4. arr. Pearsall - In Dulci Jubilo [4.07]
5. Roderick Elms - Noel! (World Premiere Recording) [4.05]
6. John Williams - Somewhere In My Memory [3.41
7. Adam Saunders - Fairytale Sleigh ride [4.35]
8. John Rutter - Angels’ Carol [3.17]
9. Sergei Prokofiev - Waltz, Winter Bonfire [3.19]
10. arr. Gustav Holst - Personent Hodie [2.31]
11. John Ireland - The Holy Boy [3.01]
12. Elizabeth Poston - Jesus Christ the Apple Tree [3.08]
13. Richard Bissill - A Christmas Carnival [11.01]
14. Harold Darke/Christina Rossetti - In The Bleak Midwinter [4.53]
15. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov - Dance of the Tumblers [4.03]
16. Marta Keen arr. Alwyn Green - Christmas on the Beach at Waikiki [3.29]
17. Leroy Anderson - Sleigh Ride [3.09]
18. arr Arthur Warrell - We Wish You A Merry Christmas [2.01]

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