Christmas With London Brass

Thursday, November 25, 2010

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


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Comments [3]

Michael Meltzer

I'm curious. Since, as of Saturday morning, this blog site seems to interest no one but yours truly, and the new entry about hand-held devices in the concert hall was piling up comment after comment, why did you delete that one and leave this one in?

Dec. 04 2010 12:28 AM
Michael Meltzer

There are too few awards for excellence in classical musicianship, "WQXR Album of the Week" is a nice concept and should be a welcome feather in any musical cap.
In order to have the designation mean something, and continue to do so, WQXR should be sure that it's awardees are either unquestionably best in their genre or extremely unique for some good reason.
If you just throw the award around, it will come to mean nothing, in short order.

Nov. 30 2010 06:30 PM
Michael Meltzer

Ah, the quest for quality!
There is one album of brass arrangements of Christmas carols that has remained the number one choice and best-seller since its first pressing, that is "A Festival of Carols in Brass" recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra brass players (Philadlphia Brass Ensemble) in 1967. No wonder, it is astonishingly good. According to CD Universe, it is still the #1 choice in U.S. shopping malls and has never been out-of-print.
This London album is O.K., but there is no need to hear any of it more than once.
As an "Album of the Week," or as preferred Christmas fare, the Philadelphia recording shows it up very, very badly.

Nov. 30 2010 05:47 PM

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About Albums of the Week

The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.