There's nothing like Christmas to bring out a composer's more unapologetically clever and enthusiastically indulgent, prodigiously inventive ideas, in apparent realization of childhood's most extravagant fantasies and enchanted imaginings, to say nothing of providing a wonderful excuse for an artist to simply go happily and uninhibitedly wild. The collection of Christmas-inspired orchestral "fantasies" on this CD is certain to become one of your favorite holiday listening traditions as you join these five composers in an upbeat--and sometimes unconventional--celebration of some of the season's most familiar Christmas carols and songs.
Of course, you can treat the material in a variety of ways, from the more straightforward yet impressively adroit fantasias on easily recognizable (if often rhythmically or melodically altered) tunes offered in Bryan Kelly's five-movement Improvisations on Christmas Carols to Victor Hely-Hutchinson's more deliberate attempt at symphonic style and structure in A Carol Symphony, where he actually incorporates carols such as Adeste fideles, God rest ye merry gentlemen, The Coventry Carol, The first nowell, and Here we come a-wassailing into a legitimate four-movement theme-and-development framework
At the program's mid-point we're treated to a string-orchestra arrangement (by composer and liner-note writer Philip Lane) of Peter Warlock's famed carol Bethlehem Down, followed by Lane's own three-movement Wassail Dances from 1973. This latter work shows a fine command of orchestral color and a healthy respect for the power of rhythm and momentum. Finally, we hear Patric Standford's A Christmas Carol Symphony, a big, robust, ruddy-cheeked tribute to this most happy and optimistic of holidays that proudly and relentlessly exerts its sparkling, brassy, brightly colored atmosphere through a mélange of at least a dozen carols, from Deck the hall and Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen to Ding dong merrily on high, The holly and the ivy, and We wish you a merry Christmas. The City of Prague Philharmonic proves a first-rate interpreter of these scores, conveying all the music's exuberance and spirit with flawless technical prowess and Technicolor-grade contributions from the winds and brass. Conductor Gavin Sutherland deserves credit for inspired leadership in these all-too-rarely performed works--any one of which would make a guaranteed audience-pleasing addition to a holiday concert. Having these together on one budget-priced CD is truly a gift worthy of the season it celebrates. And Naxos complements the whole production with top-grade sound. Adeste fidelis!