A Song for Christmas
Mantovani and his Orchestra
rec. 1958/63, Kingsway Hall, London ELOQUENCE 484 0268 [42:07 + 40:58]
In 1952 Mantovani recorded An Album of Christmas Music and when stereo began making inroads he re-recorded it in far superior sound and this is what is included on disc one of this twofer. Five years later he recorded A Song for Christmas, which fills the second disc. I say fills though in point of fact because the first LP ran to 42 minutes and the second to 41 it hasn’t been possible to include both on a single disc.
All the favourites are here. In the 1958 album some of the arrangements are Mantovani’s but the majority are by that excellent arranger Cecil Milner, too apt to be overlooked these days. The notes don’t mention Ronald Binge but those cascading strings in Adeste Fideles are his and his influence on the orchestra was always significant. The chromium-plated band included some of Britain’s best instrumentalists, many from the leading symphony orchestras of the day, notably Beecham’s old leader from the RPO, David McCallum who led Mantovani’s orchestra for a decade. I assume he plays on the second album.
With burnished brass and super-saturated strings Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is really something, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is resplendent, and the fabulous winds are to the fore in White Christmas. There’s an organ to be heard in Good King Wenceslas and a ripe cantilena in O Holy Night, courtesy, once again, of Cecil Milner. His work on Joy to the World is subtle and clever with deft dynamics and choir balancing. No wonder this album was a million seller, eclipsing even the mono.
There are twelve tracks in the 1963 disc and the Mike Samms Chorus and Singers – for thus they are billed – make several appearances too. I can’t say that this is unalloyed joy and their resolutely big-boned, mid-Atlantic contributions serve to dilute pleasure – for me, at least. The one time you think they should sing – on Handel’s O Thou That Tellest, from Messiah – they don’t and when you wish they wouldn’t sing – on The Twelve Days of Christmas, for example - they do. Still there are good things on this second, far less impressive Christmas offering. Of these I’d suggest Milner’s Whilst Shepherds Watched, the Bingeian cascades on Mantovani’s composition Christmas Bells and – perhaps surprisingly – Mary’s Boy Child.
John Tracy wrote the excellent notes and the remastering by Chris Bernauer, of splendid Kingsway Hall stereos, is equally fine. The cover illustration looks pitched to the children’s market but there are sophisticated grown-up
delights to be enjoyed – and not so many to be endured – in this pleasing restoration.
O Come All Ye Faithful
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Good King Wenceslas
O Holy Night
The First Nowell
Joy to the World
Silent Night, Holy Night
O Little Town of Bethlehem
The Skaters' Waltz
Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly
Once in Royal David's City
The Holly and the Ivy
O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
The Twelve Days of Christmas
While Shepherds Watched
Mary's Boy Child
I Saw Three Ships
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