RSNO - Christmas Festival - American Record Guide
This is the 2016 performance of an annual Christmas event. The music is a generous mixture of traditional feast day carols, more modern arrangements of some others, and a couple of tracks where the orchestra by itself cuts loose. Some of the entries have a skilled modern touch, such as Libby Larsen’s ‘Ring the Bells’. The traditional carol about the little drummer boy—here renamed ‘Little Bolero Boy’—is a deft wedding of the Katherine Davis original with Ravel’s superhit. It includes some of the bitonal harmonics and even ends with Ravel’s trombone glisses capping the celebration. Paul Mealor’s ‘I Pray’ cleverly weaves familiar carols into its texture. There are some US chestnuts, too, such as ‘I’m Getting Nuttin’ for Christmas’ combined with the tune of ‘Bingo the Dog’. A traditional number, ‘A Young Austrian Went Yodeling’, turns out to be like a Schnitzelbank song where for each stanza the singers add more comical schtick.
The performances are spirited in the best sense of the word. The RSNO plays well without overwhelming proceedings. Their youth choir, though naturally restricted in range, sings with disciplined ensemble, accurate pitch, and good diction. There’s no text, but you’ll rarely need one. They sing with an English accent rather than a burr. Conductor Bell keeps things moving while at the same time ensuring that the music gets its proper sentiment. This is a Christmas album you’d be likely to play between seasons. There are also two bonus tracks you can download.