CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
28 OCTOBER 2008
The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS", if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the Web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILITY" table under the write-up.
Anderson, Leroy: Orch Wks Cpte V4 (incl Irish & Scottish Stes); Soloists/Slatkin/BBCCon O [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) Centennial Celebration continues with Naxos' fourth installment in their ongoing survey of his complete orchestral music (see the newsletters of 15 February 2008, 30 May 2008 and 24 July 2008). This volume features two rarely heard suites and the world première recordings of three of his most popular miniatures, which were later set to words, in versions for voice and orchestra.
In 1947 on a commission from the Boston Eire Society Anderson wrote a four-part piece called the Eire Suite based on Irish folk tunes. Then in 1949 he added another two movements and changed the name to Irish Suite, giving us what we hear on this disc. Catchy accompaniments, clever variations and brilliant orchestration turn what would otherwise be a mundane arrangement into a pops gem. Highlights include The Minstrel Boy, which would have made Percy Grainger prick up his ears, "The Wearing of the Green" and "The Girl I Left Behind Me." In the last two there are stylistic references to the pizzicato scherzo in Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony and the finale from his fifth, respectively.
A beautiful 1970 Anderson arrangement for harp and strings of "To a Wild Rose" from Edward MacDowell's suite for solo piano, Woodland Sketches (1896), is next. One of the loveliest American melodies ever written, it's followed by Summer Skies (1953), which shows that Anderson was equally adept at writing gorgeous, nature-inspired pieces.
Whereas the Irish Suite was expanded from four to six movements, it was just the opposite for the Scottish (1954), which was originally to be six, but the composer only completed four. Too bad, because if anything it’s even more colorful than its Hibernian predecessor! By the way this is the first recording of the entire work where the opening and closing "Bonnie Dundee" and "Campbells are Coming" marches are included. Incidentally, the orchestral parts for the "Turn Ye to Me" section are lost and we have David Rose to thank for transcribing them from an old LP of it with the composer conducting.
The program continues with three songs based on Anderson's Blue Tango, Forgotten Dreams and Belle of the Ball (see the newsletters of 15 February 2008 and 30 May 2008). The words are by Mitchell Parish, who also came up with ex post facto lyrics for Hoagy Carmichael's ever popular Stardust. Sounding like something that could be out of a Broadway musical, the Anderson selections are interesting departures from their more frequently heard pops progenitors.
And now for some more musical fun at the expense of the composer's old college alma mater, Harvard. A 1954 revision of his Harvard Sketches (1939, see the newsletter of 24 July 2008), Alma Mater requires some aleatoric support from the orchestra members as well as assorted SFX effects from the percussion section that would challenge even the best Hollywood Foley artists. The opening "Chapel Bells" is straightforward enough, but "Freshman on Main Street" is hilarious with cuckoo calls, car horns, and Bronx cheers that are right out of a Laurel and Hardy film. Things get even zanier in "The Library Reading Room" where snores and murmurs are heard courtesy of the orchestra members (shades of Frederick Delius' Eventyr -- Once Upon a Time). But all ends well in "Class Reunion" with references to the tune for the 1915 American song Alabama Jubilee with the popular refrain "Hail, Hail, the Gangs All Here." Incidentally, the melody for it was borrowed from the second half of "With Cat-Like Tread" in Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance.
Volume four closes with the full nine-minute version of A Christmas Festival (1950), which is an exceptional holiday overture based on familiar tunes, and a welcome departure from those tired seasonal offerings record companies dust off each year. It ends triumphantly as the organ joins the orchestra in an earthshaking finale that combines Oh Come All Ye Faithful with Joy to the World and Jingle Bells, bringing this release to a glorious conclusion.
As was the case with the three previous releases, conductor Leonard Slatkin and the BBC Concert Orchestra give us ebullient, thrilling performances of everything. Once again they prove themselves worthy successors to Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, who originally championed and popularized Anderson's music. A round of applause also goes to soprano Kim Criswell and baritone William Dazeley for their vocal work in the three songs. There's an informality about their delivery that's totally in keeping with the Broadway character of these numbers. One small nitpick. Now and then it's hard to understand Ms. Criswell because she was recorded at a rather low level, and no lyrics are included with the album notes.
With a huge orchestra as well as two vocal soloists, an organ and all sorts of special effects to contend with, the Naxos audio engineers faced a significant challenge when it came to this disc. But they met it head-on with some of the most glorious sound in the series to date. Light classical music enthusiasts and audiophiles alike will find it a sonic "Belle of the Ball" that will leave you eagerly awaiting volume five.
One last note. With the holidays fast approaching, Naxos has just released another CD that's a compendium of all of Leroy's holiday-related music -- see the "Sleigh Ride" recommendation below.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y081028)
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Balakirev: Syms 1 & 2, 3 Stes, 4 Sym Poems, 2 Ovs (w Lyapunov); Svetlanov/StAcad SO [Svet Fdn]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (6 CDs)
Following their invaluable releases of rare orchestral works by Anton Arensky (see the newsletter of 3 July 2008), the Svetlanov Foundation now gives us an album of additional ones by Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) and Sergei Lyapunov (1859-1924). If you missed out on these when they first appeared on Melodiya and Olympia CDs many years ago, you now have another chance to hear some of the most infrequently played, but colorful Russian symphonic music ever written. And for those of us who cut our teeth on these recordings, conductor Evgeny Svetlanov and the State Academic Symphony Orchestra instill this music with a sense of Slavic soul that's never been surpassed.
The first three CDs as well as most of the fourth in this set of six are devoted to Balakirev. The remainder of the fourth and other two discs contain selections by Lyapunov. He became Mily's prize pupil and good friend after Balakirev fell out with the other four members (Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov) of the group known as the "Mighty Handful," or "Russian Five," that his mentor originally founded. Balakirev was disdainful of academia, and espoused a learn-by-doing approach to composition, which is reflected in the relatively loosely structured music found here. But what these selections lack in strict adherence to accepted classical forms, they well make up for in melodic inventiveness, rhythmic diversity and orchestral color.
Disc one opens with Balakirev's first symphony, which was begun in 1864, but not finished until 1897. It was a favorite of Sir Thomas Beecham, and proves beyond a doubt that with no formal training, Balakirev must have been one of the most talented amateur composers who ever lived! In four movements, it's chock-full of terrific Slavic themes and exudes a Russian nationalism and oriental exoticism that's rarely been matched. The composer was an avid collector of Russian folk songs, which are the thematic lifeblood of the symphonic poem Russia (1863-64, revised 1884) and Overture on Three Russian Songs (1858, revised 1881) that follow. Both works call to mind the orchestral music of Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857), whom Balakirev greatly admired. By the way, the second and third themes in the overture should sound familiar. Can you name two other Russian composers who would later use them and where [see possible answers: one, two]?
The next CD begins with the second symphony, which is also in four movements. A much later work, it was begun in 1900, but not completed until 1908 just two years before the composer’s death. "Orientalism" is even more evident here along with a harmonic and rhythmic adventurousness that make this, at least in Svetlanov's capable hands, an underappreciated Russian nationalistic masterpiece. Do you suppose those are references in the last movement to the fate motif from Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony (1877)? Another symphonic poem In Bohemia (1867, revised 1902 and 1905, also known as Overture on Czech Themes), and Overture on a Spanish March Theme (1857, revised 1887) conclude this disc. The former honors a body of some of the most infectious Slavic folk music in the world that would inspire the likes of Antonin Dvorák, Leos Janácek and Bohuslav Martinu (see the newsletter of 30 March 2008). The latter is based on a theme suggested by Glinka, and reminiscent of his Spanish-inspired creations, but even more colorfully orchestrated.
The third disc gives us a suite of incidental music Balakirev wrote between 1858 and 1861 (revised 1902-05) for Shakespeare's King Lear, and the symphonic poem Tamara (1867-82). The former begins with an overture that presages Tchaikovsky's Francesa da Rimini (1876) and Hamlet (1888). The procession and four entr'actes that follow are stylistically in keeping with the orchestral episodes that would later appear in Borodin's Prince Igor (1890) as well as the operas of Rimsky-Korsakov. Tamara was another Beecham favorite and is one of the finest romantic Russian tone poems ever written. It's a magnificent musical characterization of the evil Princess Tamara and her tower palace in the Caucasus, where she lures a traveler to his death.
Most of the fourth CD is devoted to two orchestral suites and the symphonic poem, or oriental fantasia as it’s sometimes called, Islamey. Balakirev was an outstanding virtuoso pianist and ardent admirer of Frederick Chopin (1810-1849). So in 1909 he wrote one of the suites here to honor the centenary of Chopin’s birth. The work includes brilliant orchestrations of an étude (Op.25, No. 6), mazurka (Op. 41, No. 3), nocturne (Op. 15, No. 3) and scherzo (No. 3, Op. 39) by the great Polish composer. The other suite (1910 and in B minor) is totally original, and was Mily's last composition, which he never quite finished. It was completed by his devoted pupil Lyapunov. In three sections, it's a showpiece of Orientalism where the younger composer shows how well he'd learned his lessons, giving us yet another romantic Russian treasure. But the best is yet to come in an orchestration Lyapunov did of his teacher's pianistic masterpiece Islamey (1859). As done here this must be one of the most exciting performances of a Russian Romantic symphonic work ever recorded. Hearing it one is tempted to label Svetlanov "The Russian Toscanini."
The disc concludes with Lyapunov's symphonic poem Zelazowa Wola (1909), which is the name of Chopin's birthplace. Like the Balakirev suite mentioned above, the work was also written to commemorate the Chopin centenary. It's a moving symphonic recreation of what the composer described as the domestic and musical surroundings Chopin grew up in. Polish folk song melodies dominate this rustic charmer.
The fifth CD continues with the Lyapunov portion of the program, namely his first symphony (1897) and the symphonic poem Hashish (1913-14). In Svetlanov's capable hands the four-movement symphony comes across as an undiscovered gem that's out of Borodin and headed towards Glazunov. It's brilliantly orchestrated and full of Eastern folk influences, which is not surprising considering that Lyapunov like Balakirev was an enthusiastic folk song collector. Lasting almost half an hour, Hashish is a highly imaginative symphonic tableaux based on a poem by Arsenyi Golenishchev-Kutusov (1848-1913) of the same name. It's something of a cross between Rimsky-Korsakov's Antar Symphony (No. 2, 1868, revised 1875 and 1897) and Scheherazade (1888) with a dance sequence reminiscent of those in Borodin's Prince Igor.
The concluding disc gives us Lyapunov's second symphony (1917) and Solemn Overture on Russian Themes (1896). The symphony is in four movements like its predecessor, but much more progressive sounding. It will bring to mind the later works of Tchakovsky and Scriabin, but with that Eastern sound which characterizes "The Five." It begins and closes with a theme that bears an uncanny resemblance to the opening of Borodin's second symphony. The overture is one of those nationalistic blasts that Russian composers seem so adept at writing, and full of attractive themes that sound folk derived. These are skillfully played off against one another and the work ends in a state of Slavic ecstasy.
Evgeny Svetlanov was one of Russia's finest conductors as evidenced by these exceptional performances. Granted the members of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra may not have been the most accomplished musicians in the world, but what they lacked in expertise they certainly made up for in enthusiasm for the music of their countrymen. Not only that, but they had a sound all of their own due in no small part to the brass section which played everything with that vibrato characteristic of French orchestras of the time. Consequently, there's something about Svetlanov's performances of these pieces with this orchestra that sets them apart from those he later did with others.
All of the recordings are drawn from the Svetlanov archives and were made in stereo between 1971 and 1993. With the exception of Islamey and the Lyapunov second symphony, all were done in a studio, and sound generally superior to what was coming out of Russia back then. Svetlanov did do a studio version of Islamey, but the live performance here is far superior, and you'll thank your lucky stars you finally have a chance to hear it. The Lyapunov recordings are a bit more problematic with somewhat pinched soundstages, and occasional pops in Hashish, which may indicate it was copied from an LP. So this is a mixed bag from the sonic standpoint, but with repertoire this rare and so well played, we're lucky to have what's here.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P081027)
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Liebermann, L.: Qnt (pno, cl & stg trio), Qnt (pno & stg qt), 6 Songs…; Mason/Korevarr/et al [Koch Int'l]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
American composer Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961) has been described by the New York Times as a traditionalist as well as an innovator, and that's certainly true of the music on this exceptional release. Those who remember his remarkable second piano concerto, which appeared on Hyperion (66966) and received a 1998 Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, will not be disappointed with the two piano quintets on this disc.
The quintet for piano, clarinet and string tiro (1988, revised 2002) is in three movements played without pause. It opens with an arpeggiated, shimmering theme that could almost be out of Rod Serling's TV classic The Twilight Zone (1959). A second delicately phrased idea then appears, and the two form the building blocks for the sonata form first movement. The next section is a largo where a chorale-like tune played by the piano and an extended lyrical melody spun out on the clarinet alternate with one another. The exciting, animated finale gives everyone a chance to strut their stuff, and concludes the quintet in headlong flight.
Dating from 1990, the quintet for piano and string quartet is in the usual four movements. The first is a rondo that opens with the piano playing a hovering, lepidopterous motif as the violin intones the main idea, which is an attractive, slow walking melody. Two other delightfully lyrical ideas eventually appear, trading places with the violin theme. The movement gains in intensity about halfway through only to quietly vanish much as it began. It's followed by an arresting, driven scherzo and an adagio that's a moving instrumental recitative and aria. The mood of the finale is similar to the scherzo, but with a hint of the diabolical, and a central theme that's almost Brahmsian. The demands on all of the musicians are substantial and the work ends on a high with an exciting display of keyboard fireworks.
The disc is filled out with Six Songs on Poems by Raymond Carver (2002) for baritone and piano. The texts, which border on the bizaare, are not included in the album notes, but with repeated listening, you'll be able to understand them. The dramatic vocal lines and highly imaginative piano accompaniments may remind you of Benjamin Britten's efforts in this genre. Highlights include "Your Dog Dies," set to a mockingly passive-aggressive waltz, and "Music," which honors Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner in words and music. The concluding number, "Two Worlds," is a moving invocation of true love.
All of the artists on this disc give committed, sensitive performances of these works. Special accolades should go to pianist David Korevaar, who is not only a technically gifted instrumentalist in the quintets, but a highly sympathetic accompanist in the songs. You'll find clarinetist Jon Manasse and baritone Patrick Mason exceptional musicians who along with their other colleagues here make a strong case for Liebermann's music.
Each of the instruments are faithfully captured in natural sound, as is the vocalist, and there's no sign of any digital distress in forte keyboard or sung passages. In the quintets the soundstage is for the most part convincing, but the clarinet would have been benefited from being more centrally placed. The soundstage in the songs is a bit recessed to the point where they're occasionally hard to understand on first hearing.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P081026)
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Moravec: Chbr Sym, Autumn Song (fl & pno), Cool Fire (fl & pno qnt); BridgChMF Soloists [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Here's some more outstanding chamber music from one of America's most distinguished living composers, Paul Moravec (b. 1957, see the newsletter of 7 April 2007). A graduate of Harvard and Columbia, he has been the recipient of several prestigious commissions, and won a Pulitzer in 2004. While his music is definitely contemporary in spirit and obviously the work of a highly creative intellect, there are triadic and tonal elements present that make it immediately appealing.
The Chamber Symphony (2003) was written for the twentieth anniversary season of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, who are our performers here, and is scored for flute, piano, clarinet, horn, violin, cello and marimba/vibraphone. It's in four movements that alternate between fast and slow. The first is a scampering, neoclassical offering in which the thematic seeds that form the basis of the work are introduced. There's an impressionistic haze that surrounds the following movement, while the third is an articulate, kinetic romp with Stravinskian overtones. The finale is dark and meditative to begin with, but suddenly turns assertively animated, ending the work on a note of confidence.
Autumn Song (2000) is a rhapsody for flute and piano that's as refreshing as one of those hazy Indian summer days. Here the flute spins out a gentle gossamer melody, while the piano shimmers beneath it like sunlight on water.
A chamber concerto for flute and piano quintet (2001) is next. In it the composer attempts to musically contrast the intellectual and emotional. With the oxymoronic title, Cool Fire, it's in three movements and opens with a flurry of notes, which one could imagine representing neurons firing during some complex thought process. The lovely slow central section is passionate with ardent passages for each of the instruments. But a blizzard of melodic thoughts returns in the whirlwind finale, where the technical demands on everyone are considerable. There's never a dull moment in this intriguing, hyperactive work.
All of the nine musicians represented here deliver stunning performances. Special mention should be made of flutist Marya Martin, who is also the founder and artistic director of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, and pianist Jeewon Park for their outstanding solo work in the last two works. You'll undoubtedly be hearing from them again!
Recorded at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, the sound is excellent with soundstages that are entirely appropriate for each of the differing ensembles required for these pieces. The instrumental timbre is quite natural across the entire frequency spectrum; however, those with systems favoring the high end may notice isolated bright spots on intense flute passages. Also there's an occasional hint of grain in the piano sound, but certainly not enough to deny this release an audiophile rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y081025)
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Röntgen: Sym 10 "Waltz", Symta..., 3 Prels & Fugues, Old Neth... Ste; Porcelijn/RheinPfSt P [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The revival of composer Julius Röntgen's (1855-1932) orchestral music continues (see the newsletters of 16 April 2007 and 30 January 2008) with this new release from CPO. Although he spent the last forty-four years of his life in the Netherlands, he was German-born as well as trained, and a friend of Johannes Brahms (1833-1875) whose music he greatly admired. The latter's influence is apparent in the selections on this disc, yet there's a lightness of touch that sets them apart as Röntgen creations.
Röntgen's eleventh symphony (he wrote twenty-five, some still in manuscript and unnumbered) dates from 1930 and is in a single, ten-minute-long movement. Subtitled the "Waltz Symphony," it begins festively with pounding timpani, brass fanfares and a xylophone cackling away in the background. A rollicking waltz tune then appears and is developed with the work ending in a lively coda based on the opening.
The Symphonietta humoristica (1922) is a jolly four movement suite with an opening vivace that's a combination of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream and Richard Strauss' Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1918). The infectiously squeaky second movement contains references to Brahms' second piano concerto, while the one that follows is dance-like and sounds folk-inspired. The bubbling finale could almost be based on "The Matching Game" music from Sigurd Jorsalfar by Edvard Grieg, who was a close friend of Röntgen.
The next selection is a real curiosity in the form of 3 Preludes and Fugues (1918-19) that the composer wrote using themes based on one of his student's initials. Originally for piano and later arranged for orchestra, what may have started out as a purely cerebral exercise comes across as an absolutely charming six part suite. Incidentally, the main theme from Bach's Musical Offering is cleverly worked into the last fugue, concluding the piece with a bow to the great German master of counterpoint.
The disc closes with the Old Netherlands Suite (1907), which is a folk-inspired creation that might be considered a miniaturized, late romantic successor to Karl Goldmark's Rustic Wedding Symphony (1877). In four movements, the opening is delightfully bumptious and somewhat reminiscent of what Respighi would come up with in the more spirited parts of his La Boutique Fantasque (1919) and Rossiniana (1925, see the newsletter of 1 March 2007). The second movement sounds like it's derived from some chorale tune, while the third is a sprightly peasant frolic based on an old Dutch contradance. The finale borrows the melody from a medieval Netherlands song about the Dutch counterpart of Duke Bluebeard. Like the subject matter, it begins rather darkly, but soon builds to a radiant conclusion that ends the suite in triumphant, joyous fashion.
Röntgen champion David Porcelijn is once again at the helm here with the Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic of Germany. Committed performances and magnificent playing characterize everything, as was the case with their previous release for CPO (see the newsletter of 16 April 2007).
The recordings are quite good with an ideal soundstage, and what is for the most part a natural sounding orchestral timbre across the entire frequency spectrum. However, those with systems favoring the high end may notice a bit of grain in the string sound. By the way, you may hear a "Bernstein Bounce" or two when Porcelijn occasionally emphasizes a point by jumping on the podium.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P081024)
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Tovey, D.: Pno Trios 1 & 2 "Style tragique" (pno, vn & vc vers); Lon Pno Trio [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Most remember British-born Sir Donald Francis Tovey (1875-1940) for his penetrating Essays in Musical Analysis, but in his day he was also a pianist, conductor and composer of some note. The influence of Brahms, which undoubtedly filtered down to him through his teacher Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918), is very apparent in both of the early piano trios (1895) on this enterprising release. Both are relatively straightforward compared to his later works, where there's what might best be described as an intellectually driven structural complexity that makes them difficult to sort out.
The first trio was dedicated to Parry and is a large-scale four-movement piece lasting almost forty minutes. It opens with two gorgeous thematic ideas, which the composer masterfully develops (see the exemplary album notes for a detailed analysis of both trios) before ending the movement with a thrilling recapitulation and coda. An exquisite minuet and trio follow, and then a rhapsody which is in essence a scherzo. The latter opens robustly with a jaggedly rhythmic Schumannesque theme that's followed by a lovely lullaby-like one. Tovey alternates the two to great effect, and then the movement comes to a euphoric close. The finale is structured like the first movement and begins with an extended impassioned melody followed by a more heroic motif. The composer works these into a turbulent development section, which gradually subsides as the trio ends with melancholy memories of this movement's opening ideas.
Originally scored for piano, clarinet and horn, the second trio was published in 1912, at which time the version with violin and cello heard here also appeared. It was then given the epithet "Style tragique," which aptly characterizes all three of its movements. The first is in sonata form and built on two themes that are respectively apprehensive and minimally hopeful. A rigorous development so typical of Tovey follows, and the movement concludes with a contrapuntally embellished coda. The following largo is a set of variations based on two attractive, hesitant melodies, and has a coda which also acts as a bridge to the final movement. Here several memorable motifs are introduced and masterfully manipulated as the work eventually retires quietly into a tonic sunset.
The performances by the London Piano Trio are lovingly lush and totally committed, but one could ask for a little more intonational stability in the strings.
The recordings are quite good, with a rather wide soundstage for a group this size, and a reverberant acoustic that add all the more to the romantic character of the music. While some may find the piano a bit distant, there's no sign of any digital grain, and the string sound is totally natural with no glare.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P081023)
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Anderson, Leroy: Sleigh Ride (16 holiday-related orch wks); Slatkin/BBCCon O [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
As far as Christmas music goes, you'll find it hard to beat this new release from Naxos featuring some of the world's best-loved holiday classics by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975). Ten of the sixteen selections here have already been on the first four volumes of Naxos' ongoing survey devoted to Anderson's orchestral works. The remaining six are from a suite of carols Leroy arranged for woodwinds back in 1955. This will be on the fifth installment due out next month.
Granted with all the world's current economic woes, holiday cheer will be hard to come by this year. But playing this CD should certainly help, and the kids will love it!
With a little imagination it's tempting to make up a Christmas story about the selections as they appear here. So for the benefit of those readers who are still young-at-heart, here goes! By the way, the parent album number for each selection is given in parenthesis.
With a fresh blanket of snow on the ground and a beaming sun in the sky, what better way to start Christmas day than with an early morning Sleigh Ride (3)! After lunch it’s into the Horse and Buggy (2), and off to Grandmother's house we go. On the way we hear a Song of the Bells (2) echoing through the hills, and pass a local band playing a Suite of Carols for Brass (3).
Arriving at Granny's, and before we can even knock, the front door opens magically to reveal a grinning graying grimalkin standing on her hind legs. She beckons us in with her front paws, and begins to dance around the living room. As the Waltzing Cat (2) passes Granny’s antiquated console radio, we begin to hear the music for A Christmas Festival (4, see above). Then slowly but surely the feline phantom shapeshifts into Granny with cane in hand and a knowing-smile on her face typical of those who’ve made it to The Golden Years (1). Now as you’ve probably already guessed, Granny’s a witch! But who cares, because we love her anyway.
She bids us welcome, asking us to make ourselves comfortable and begin opening our presents. While unwrapping them, we hear on the radio a Suite of Carols for Woodwinds (5), which includes exceptional arrangements of Angels in Our Fields, O Sanctissima, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, O Come Little Children, the Coventry Carol, and the Burgundian carol Patapan (U). These whet our appetite for the sumptuous Christmas feast that follows. It’s served up by Granny's devoted housekeeper and cook Liù, whom Granny discovered on a trip to the Orient. And she’s a real China Doll (1), if there ever was one.
Having finished this magnificent repast, we sit around the fireplace reminiscing. But the mechanical clock on the wall soon reminds us it's late, as the toy trumpeter inside appears sounding Bugler's Holiday (1). So it's time to journey home, and en route we pass some itinerant fiddlers performing a Suite of Carols for Strings (2). What an ideal ending for a perfect Christmas day!
All kidding aside, a special thank you should go to Leroy's son Kurt Anderson, conductor Leonard Slatkin, the BBC Concert Orchestra, and executive producers Jim Selby and Klaus Heymann for giving us one of the best holiday albums to appear in years.
From the sound perspective it should be noted that this release is cut at a significantly higher level than the other Naxos Anderson discs. Consequently you may experience some high end brightness, which may require reducing the playback level. On the other hand, any children listening may be screaming with such delight that you just might have to turn it up! Either way, the soundstage and detail remain equally as impressive as on the other CDs.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P081022)
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