Colin Anderson, editor of Classical Source, makes a few serendipitous suggestions for music Christmas presents:
On Christmas Day – New Christmas Carols
A Celebration of Christmas
All is Bright
Opus Arte DVDs – Eroica Symphony, Andrés Segovia, Les Paladins
Dvořák Complete Symphonies
Britten & Tippett Collections
Gilbert & Sullivan Highlights
Leonard Bernstein Conducts Popular Symphonies
Sir Andrew Davis
Sir Colin Davis
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Sir Charles Mackerras
Sir Georg Solti
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2005
CD No: Please see text
Duration: Not listed
In wishing you the very best for Christmas and the New Year, I would like to suggest a selection of CDs and DVDs that will hopefully be found interesting, not just for the festive period but for all-year pleasure and gratification. Let’s start up-to-date and entirely in season with a release entitled “On Christmas Day”. The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge brings firm, pure and focussed singing to 22 recent carols, quite a few written this century; included are Peter Maxwell Davies, John Rutter, Harrison Birtwistle, Arvo Pärt and Richard Rodney Bennett (EMI 5 58070 2, 2 CDs for the price of 1). Meanwhile “A Celebration of Christmas” features The Choir of Eton College Chapel in numerous hymns and carols, including some of the best known, and interspersed by organ solos. It’s a lovely release, rich in musical variety and harmonious renditions (HERALD HAVPCD 318). “All is Bright” reads the cover of a CD from the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus, which explores old and new musical responses to Christ’s birth, including “Silent Night” (AVIE AV 2078).
Now for some visual treats. The OPUS ARTE DVD catalogue boasts splendid titles that I have previously recommended; another Rameau opera has been released, “Les Paladins”, a lyric comedy that bursts with invention; here 18th-century song-and-dance meets 21st-century multimedia staging. Les Arts Florissants and William Christie are the ideal exponents (OA 0938 D). Then there is a dramatic introduction to Beethoven’s boundary-breaking Eroica Symphony: a film on the work’s background and gestation (with Ian Hart as Beethoven) and a bracing complete performance under John Eliot Gardiner (OA 0908 D). Following which two films on the legendary guitarist Andrés Segovia, made by master filmmaker Christopher Nupen, will delight the eye and the ear: plenty of Spain and plenty of music (OA CN0931 D).
Celebratory CD sets include one devoted to Dvořák’s nine symphonies, the Philharmonia Orchestra with Sir Andrew Davis. The New World is hugely popular, of course, but all of Dvořák’s symphonies are wonderfully tuneful, heartfelt and vibrant works; Davis appreciates the composer’s pride and vulnerability. There are also some Slavonic Dances and the two serenades, one for strings, one for winds (RCA RED SEAL 82876-70830-2, 7 CDs). Dvořák died in 1904 and at the beginning of 1905 Sir Michael Tippett was born. His centenary has been a great artistic success, and two Tippett sets from DECCA prove very rewarding: vocal works and opera (475 7172, 4 CDs), and symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets (475 6750, 6 CDs). Stellar musicians (including Sir Colin Davis and Sir Georg Solti) and great music! Similarly, Decca’s 10-CD box of Benjamin Britten’s music is desirable, the composer conducting many of the recordings. Included are the “Church Parables”, “Spring Symphony”, “War Requiem” (plus rehearsal) and, Christmas-related, “Saint Nicolas” and “A Ceremony of Carols” (475 6040). If a lighter note is now sought, then the ‘greatest hits’ of Gilbert & Sullivan, as extracted from Charles Mackerras’s complete recordings, will do very nicely (TELARC CD-80431).
Leonard Bernstein (of “West Side Story” fame) was one of the great musical communicators. There is a superb 5-CD set of him conducting the New York Stadium Symphony Orchestra (actually the New York Philharmonic under a contractual pseudonym) in popular symphonies (including the Eroica, New World, and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique), all recorded in 1953 in excellent, full-blooded sound. These are powerful and vital performances, ones full of personality. The icing on the cake is having Bernstein also talk about each symphony; if anyone could unlock the door and bring people on board, it was Bernstein (DG 477 0002, 5 CDs).