CHRISTMAS SPRIT • Main Street Brass • MSR MS 1325 (68:09)
I was going to write that I have accumulated a ton of Christmas brass over the years, but quickly realized that that would not be remotely true. However, it has occurred to me that if I were to assign a dollar value to those assembled discs and convert it to British currency, it might amount to a few hundred pounds. Given the state of brass performance these days, I can only report that most of those discs fall somewhere between very good and excellent. So, for a new entry to warrantRead more your attention, it can’t realistically claim to be better than what’s already available. It has to be different. This one is different.
First of all, for better of for worse, it features all new arrangements. Some of the arrangements sound rather un-brassy, which can be received favorably or unfavorably, depending on one’s point of view. In a fair number of instances, the principals (that is, the brass quintet) are augmented by a battery of percussion instruments, not all of which are of military persuasion, but which feel appropriate in context. Next, there is the centerpiece of the program, consuming a quarter of its running time: a musically illustrated (and greatly abridged) retelling of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, composed and narrated by Alan Danson, a friend of the players. I will have to confess that this is not my favorite part of the disc. Like you, I’m sure, I am already familiar with the outline of the story, which can be told quite effectively without the music, which, by the way, is not likely soon to rival Peter and the Wolf for the affection of listeners, young or old. I suspect that it may be more effective in live performance than it is on disc. Then—and this is not unique to this release—it is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas album. It’s a holiday album, with a sprinkling of secular Christmas tidbits—Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, and the like, some of which are treated rather irreverently—among the carols. At least one arrangement—The 12 Days of Christmas—obviously drew its inspiration not from Giovanni Gabrieli but from Spike Jones (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
But don’t discount the Christmas—that is, the holiday—spirit. It can be catching.
FANFARE: George Chien
Is that a haze of breath arising around the players. O come, O come Emmanuel, Once in Royal David's City and In the Bleak Midwinter are played with tender feeling. The brass sound has a finely judged vocal quality and often a roseate Medieval rasp as in Joseph Lieber. Richard Price’s arrangement add a modern touch to Once in Royal David's City. Ding Dong! Merrily on high, on the other hand, seems a shade robotic in its machine-like deliberation and a similar effect registers in Deck the Halls. A Christmas Carol has A. Danson as the narrator of the tale of Scrooge and of his redemption through terror. The brass score is modern-lyrical and Danson matches the story with his not too precious English accent. Quite naturally, Joy to the world is zesty and Handelian. There’s a commercial stratum here as well and this can be felt in Deck the Halls, the swinging Go tell it on the mountain and in Frosty the Snowman as well as the unbuttoned Rudolph and Santa in which the famous Reindeer and the famous beard meet and jam. The trajectory of these titles describes an arc from snowy medievalism to shopping mall. Very atmospheric recording.