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Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Naxos have cornered the market in DVD travelogues. This Christmas-themed video - made in 1993 and presented here in 3:4 aspect - tracks through picturesque churches, landscapes and street-scenes and sets these images to extracts of seasonal music by Bach (Christmas Oratorio and others) and Handel (Messiah). It’s done smoothly without bumpy gear-changes. That said, each of the seventeen chapters is preceded by a title-board telling you about the location you are about to see and identifying the music to be played. Those title sequences stay on screen for perhaps a mite too long – certainly long enough for the watcher to note the catalogue number of the CD carrying the music. Every piece of music is from the Naxos catalogue. Fair enough that Naxos would take the opportunity to use its own recordings and wish to promote the related CDs.

Impressions crowd in. Sacred meets profane. The devotional and commercial are juxtaposed just as they are for the now long extended Christmas experience which seems to begin in October these days. We see wintry street markets with haloed lights, smiling children’s faces and kitsch goods brilliantly coloured on the stalls. Those plastic Santas and Sendak-based street carnival masks and costumes contrast with meditative countryside snow-scenes. These are very well done. In fact we could have done with more of these. Perhaps a bit of a cliché, but the spangled early sun in chiaroscuro through the pines is beautifully done. There are quite a few church interiors but the camerawork is excellent with tracking and panning shots taken at just the right speed to allow the viewer to take in the detail of the crib scene and a host of gilded seraphim and cherubim. The camera moves on before boredom sets in. One drinks in the flamboyance of the Collegiate Church Ottobeuren. The music is aptly chosen to match the images. Notable among the singers is are the wonderful Helen Parker in He shall feed his flocks as is the lusty singing of Heilige Nacht.

The booklet is pretty good. It identifies all the performers for each chapter as well as catalogue numbers for the counterpart CDs.

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