Among the recent raft of reissues by Warner Classics is this fine Christmas recording from 1990--a trove of favorite traditional tunes in solid, expertly written arrangements for brass, recorded in the very favorable acoustics of St. Barnabas Church, Woodside Park. Most of the arrangements, the majority by London Brass director Roger Harvey, are fairly straightforward--nothing to prove in undue cleverness or gratuitous alterations of the originals--and this familiarity makes the listening smooth and easy and very soul-warming, perfect for setting and keeping a good mood for the season at hand. Not to say that this isn't also quite festive--it's brass after all!--and in its stylishness and technicalRead more facility the playing is beyond reproach.
And there are a few arrangements outside of the above-mentioned "straightforward" character, namely Simon Wills' "Quem pastores laudavere"--a prelude and fugue that's both exciting and, yes, quite clever, and Harvey's appropriately ancient, ominous-sounding "Coventry Carol". Another Wills' arrangement, "Silent Night", begins with a harmonic/rhythmic figure from one of Satie's piano pieces, a recurring theme interrupted by a sudden diversion into something that sounds as if a circus band momentarily wandered in. I wasn't prepared to like the group's rendition of "Winter" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, but I couldn't help it--the display of sheer technical virtuosity is worth hearing on its own, but also the range of sonority (assisted by organ) and the vitality and rhythmic energy heightened by the super-crisp articulation is infectious.
The disc concludes with Harvey's lively and thoroughly engaging medley of popular holiday tunes (Sleigh Ride; Have yourself a merry little Christmas; Jingle Bells; We wish you a merry Christmas). This last provides a chance for the group to exhibit (in Jingle Bells) just a bit of the humorous component absent from the rest of the program but that we just kind of expect from brass ensemble performances. If you're looking for a great disc of Christmas instrumental music and you missed this the first time, don't hesitate. Highly recommended.