A Song For Christmas

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Mantovani and his Orchestra
Eloquence 4840268
83.05 mins.

Your reviewer was surprised and delighted to find this release listed by the enterprising Australian classical label. It contains the two best albums of Christmas music ever recorded by a non-American light orchestra.

The first fourteen tracks are from Monty’s ‘Christmas Album’, which first saw the light of day in the UK on a 12-inch mono LP in 1957. It was re-recorded in stereo the next year and earned a Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) gold award for sales of over a million dollars for both versions, and by 1965 was a collective million seller worldwide – those were the days! Charles Smart is the featured organist.

All the recordings here were made in London’s (Methodist) Kingsway Hall.

[This was a regularly employed venue for Light and Classical recordings, and had the benefit of very good acoustic, although there could sometimes be heard faint rumblings from the underground trains running directly below the building ! – ed.]

The carols are mostly well-known traditional ones but also included are Waldteufel’s The Skater’s Waltz and the lovely Midnight Waltz written by Mantovani in the guise of Paul Lambrecht. Two of the tracks, White Christmas and Adeste Fideles, originally appeared on a 78-rpm record which was the first I ever bought 66 years ago!

The second album ‘A Song For Christmas’ was originally released in 1964 with Charles Smart’s son Harold at the organ. The dozen tracks include more favourite carols, Jingle Bells, Charles Chaplin’s Toy Waltz, The Twelve Days of Christmas and Mary’s Boy Child – two of seven tracks with the Mike Sammes Chorus & Singers – and Monty’s own Christmas Bells. Following Mantovani’s five arrangements on the first album, seven in the second are by the master arranger, Cecil Milner, who was a regular collaborator of the maestro in the post – Ronald Binge era.

One of them, the 4½-minute O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings, from Handel’s "Messiah", is for me the standout track of both discs.

The booklet cover is a bit disappointing, not matching the magnificence of the music. Although both albums have been re-issued, notably on Vocalion, this is the first time they have been available together. Capturing the true spirit of Christmas in these anxious days they could not be more welcome.

© 2018 Peter Burt

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