ROUSE: Karolju; LUTOSLAWSKI: Polish Christmas Carols; RODRIGO: Retablo de Navidad – Julia Doyle, soprano/ Anna Stephany, mezzo-soprano/ Philharmonia Chorus/ BBC Symphony Orchestra/ David Zinman, conductor – RCA

by | Dec 17, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ROUSE: Karolju; LUTOSLAWSKI: Polish Christmas Carols; RODRIGO: Retablo de Navidad – Julia Doyle, soprano/ Anna Stephany, mezzo-soprano/ Philharmonia Chorus/ BBC Symphony Orchestra/ David Zinman, conductor – RCA 88697-11561-2, 67:04 ***1/2:

This is an interesting album a long time coming, according to Maestro Zinman, who gave the premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Karolju (a made-up title) in 1991 when he was with the Baltimore Symphony. Record execs showed little enthusiasm for the work then, but finally Red Seal decided to give it chance, and for the most part it does prove a worthy addition to the Christmas canon while not setting the world on fire.

The Rouse work is based on the composer’s long standing wish to create a piece that sounded somewhat like the Ormandy/Philadelphia Christmas albums Columbia produced back in the sixties. Having been a fan of that style and those recordings—and I still am—I completely understand the attraction. This is not Rouse like you are used to him, and he is quick to assure his many fans in the notes that this piece is in effect an aberration of style, and not a change of mind. Whatever—this is a rather silly thing to have to assert. What he does is compose the music first and go back and add the “texts”, such as they are, to the music, using various languages that demonstrate a Christmas “feeling” while not necessarily being understandable over an extended period of time. It works. The music does indeed sound like any number of holiday concert pieces, with the added bonus that many of these short vignettes are exquisite in nature, especially the last one in Italian, a gorgeous beauty.

Witold Lutoslawski is not the first guy you would turn to for Christmas cheer, but here he is on his best behavior, the artists giving us 14 of his 20 Polish Christmas Carols. They are lovely indeed, quite simple and affecting using the typical chamber like sonorities of the composer’s unique orchestration abilities, and I am glad to have made their acquaintance. Antoni Wit offers all 20 on a Naxos disc that I have not heard, though I would be willing to bet it is very fine, and might be an alternative if the couplings here are not of interest.  Finally, Rodrigo gives us Retablo de Navidad, three lovely carols in his style: “Airs and graces”, “Holy Shepherd Boy”, and “Carols of Bethlehem”. This is a nice alternative to the usual stuff of the season. Again, there are no texts or translations. How stupid do the record companies think we are? [Maybe they think we’re all multilingual…Ed.]

— Steven Ritter

 

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