Lancette Arts Journal
, December 2010
There is a sure way to get into the Christmas spirit. Listen to readings about Christmas, from a recipe dating back to 1394 to stories about 20th century Christmas in wartime and all those years in-between. The Naxos audio The Christmas Collection is read in fine readings by seven actors, known to us from the stage, film as well as from behind the microphone.
There are two CDs in this collection. They offer us an insight into the past, yet confirm that the Christmas season has not really changed. By dividing the readings into Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Curmudgeonly Christmases, Partying, and offerings of Food for Thought, we can hear echoes from the past reverberating in our own time.
The Partying segment on CD 2 consists of a Christmas Mummers’ Play as celebrated in Leicestershire in 1863. This is not unlike mummers plays performed in Newfoundland to this day. The origin in the New World dates back to the 1600s when they were brought there by immigrants from England and later Ireland.
The spirit of Christmas is positively emphasized through musical interludes that not only introduce each section, but are also brought in just before several readings within the six sections. They are charmingly complementary to the readings and are from Naxos recordings that feature carols, and music by Corelli, Britten, Bach and others.
There are two items that were not read in quite the manner one expects. Track 13 on CD 1, A Visit from St Nicholas, which we know here as The Night Before Christmas, does not sound right with an English accent. This is not the fault of David Timson, who otherwise does some wonderful readings in this collection. It’s just that we are used to a North American accent. The other item that failed to totally capture my imagination is Track 1 on this CD, A Recipe for Christmas Pastry: Anon. 1394. The recipe is great and offers a look at a distant Christmas past Susan Engel, however, is not totally convincing in her Middle English pronunciation. During the Middle English period the e at the end of a world was not pronounced as we tend to do now, as a double-e (deep), but more like an e in let. She also pronounces ye as yee, rather than ‘the’ , for what looked like the letter y in Middle English was actually the letter representing the TH sound. We somehow have forgotten this. So, if you see a shop being called Ye Old Shoppe, do not say ‘Yee old shoppee’, but The old shoppe (remember e as in let).
But enough of my curmudgeonly ways. This is a great collection to put on as an entertainment at Christmas for oneself as well as guests, especially the young ones. It will keep them occupied while one is busy preparing the Christmas feast. This audio CD is far more entertaining and revealing of what Christmas is and was about than some television program.
One cannot list all the personalities who are represented in this Christmas anthology. Here a just a few: William Shakespeare, Robert Herrick, Nicholas Breton, John Betjeman, Thomas Hardy, Christina Rossetti, Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Anderson and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.