Christmas With London Brass

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This week, WQXR caps Hot Air, our month-long spotlight on brass and woodwinds, while looking ahead to the the new crop of holiday releases. As such, our Album of the Week features 19 arrangements of carols and seasonal selections by the London Brass.

Brass choirs are always a big favorite around Christmas time, but all too often they suffer from too much gussied-up arranging and too little melody. The London Brass largely avoids that trap. Comprised of ten of the U.K's top brass players, the ensemble is known for its artful arrangements of both standard orchestral literature and more cutting-edge contemporary fare.

Alas, the generic title and bland cover art of this collection don't seem to hold much promise and the liner notes tell you little. But the performances themselves are top caliber. Arrangements of favorites like O Come all ye Faithful, Ding Dong! Merrily on high and The First Noel show off the players' smooth technique and burnished tone while letting the beloved old melodies sing with clarity and power. Relative rarities such as Quem pastores laudavere and Infant holy, infant lowly are also a treat.

A few selections surprise as well: a version of O Come Emmanuel becomes a virtuosic elaboration on the ancient melody, while Quem Pastores Laudavere blends with several other carols into the texture along the way. A playful arrangement of Vivaldi's Winter Concerto takes a dazzling piece for baroque strings and turns it into a mind-boggling tour de force for brass players.

Christmas with London Brass