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A Welcome Novelty

Seasonal music
from Naxos,
reviewed by
PATRIC STANDFORD


Naxos    8.570331

The Night Before Christmas, narrated by Stephen Fry, and other seasonal music for Christmas. © 2006 Naxos Rights International Ltd

A new CD of seasonal music has a welcome novelty value that could perhaps give it a life beyond December, though that clearly will be its greatest commercial relevance. Its window dressing is rather unbalanced. The name and photo of Stephen Fry is prominent, as also is the title in which he features as narrator, though that is only six minutes of a disc of more than an hour, and on which undoubtedly the major track is a fantasia on The Twelve Days of Christmas by Doreen Carwithen, adapted by Philip Lane from a film soundtrack she created in 1955 for On the Twelfth Day, a short comic film without dialogue. Carwithan was a clever composer, the second wife of William Alwyn, an equally proficient film composer, and devised a sequence of instrumental interludes to punctuate choral verses from the old celebratory carol [listen -- track 12, 15:36-17:16] and which she brings to a close with neatness and skill [listen -- track 12, 18:37-20:12].

The rest of the CD is entertaining though not of great consequence, and yet Philip Lane (who has co-produced the disc for Naxos) features notably as an expert arranger and orchestrator. His arrangements of Leopold Mozart's Classic Sleighride, an Overture on French Carols and a delightful little piece -- Sleighride to Thredbo [listen -- track 7, 0:42-1:18] by the Australian composer John Carmichael, now a British resident and approaching 77, make a distinctive contribution. It is in fact Philip Lane as composer that gives the CD its title, and his pleasant score supporting Stephen Fry's characteristically efficient recitation of the amusing 19th century verses by one Clement Clarke Moore, give it, as does Fry, more that it deserves -- but it is, after all, for Christmas [listen -- track 5, 0:58-2:37]!

The work of other arrangers contribute to this anthology: the hand of Syndey Baynes assists Coleridge-Taylor's Christmas Overture and Anthony Collins extracted four pieces from Liszt's Christmas Tree Suite in his version for strings and celeste. The BBC Singers, in addition to their contribution to Doreen Carwithen, appear in Nicolai's Christmas Overture, based on the chorale von Himmel hoch, and there is the attractive Last Sleep of the Virgin from Massenet's La Vierge with cello soloist Matthew Lee. It's all the sort of thing that Barry Wordsworth and the Concert Orchestra do so competently.

Copyright © 25 December 2006 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK

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The Night Before Christmas - and other seasonal music for orchestra

8.570331 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 66'00" 2006 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Matthew Lee, cello (Massenet); Stephen Fry, narrator (The Night before Christmas); Rebecca Turner, violin (In Olden Times/Christmas Tree Suite); BBC Singers (Nicolai, Carwithen); BBC Concert Orchestra; Barry Wordsworth, conductor

Leopold Mozart (1719-87) arr Philip Lane (born 1950): Classic Sleighride; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) arr Sydney Baynes (1879-1938): Christmas Overture; Jules Massenet (1842-1912): The Last Sleep of the Virgin (La Vierge); Philip Lane: Overture on French Carols; The Night before Christmas; Otto Nicolai (1810-49): Christmas Overture (based on the chorale Von Himmel Hoch); John Carmichael (born 1930) orch Philip Lane: Sleighride to Thredbo; Franz Liszt (1811-86) arr Anthony Collins (1893-1963): The Christmas Tree Suite (Lighting the Carols; In Olden Times; Games; Bedtime (Dreaming)); Doreen Carwithen (1922-2003) reconstructed by Philip Lane: On the Twelfth Day

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