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David Vernier, November 2000

Christmas without music is like, well, how can you live without music at Christmas? In the history of the world no other season, holiday, event, or celebration has produced such sheer quantity and variety of music, from well-loved carols and songs to great masterpieces. Although no great masterpieces appear on this interesting but unevenly performed and recorded collection, there are plenty of familiar tunes, many of which are embedded in Leroy Anderson's disc-opening Christmas Festival medley. Conductor/former Boston Pops arranger Richard Hayman adds several of his own settings of carols--a rousing "Carol of the Bells", a grand and colorful "What Child is this?", a prayerful "O Sanctissima"--and the program is rounded out with selections from works by composers such as Bach (Sheep may safely graze), Mozart (Sleigh Ride), Mozart's father (his own lighthearted version of a Sleigh Ride), Glazunov ("Winter" from The Seasons), and Prokofiev (Troika from Lt. Kijé). The beloved Bach/Gounod Ave Maria is here (the melody played by a raspy-voiced solo violin, accompanied by harp) as is a poorly recorded "Hallelujah" chorus from Messiah (the only vocal piece on the disc) in which it's hard to tell what language the chorus is singing. Experienced classical listeners will notice certain infelicities of style--the sacred song "Mein Jesu, was fur Seelenweh" that may or may not be by Bach sounds more like late-Romantic incidental music--and the sound varies from track to track. As a festive, background holiday disc, this one will certainly deliver a suitable mood and its random repertoire selection will appeal to many listeners looking for a mix of sacred and secular pieces. If you're a serious Christmas music fan, however, the program just isn't compelling enough nor the performances strong enough to earn a high recommendation."

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