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Most Rich in Sound: Joyous Music Box Christmas Vol. II

The MHS Review 408, VOL. 12, NO.12• 1988

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Robert Maxwell Stern


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It takes more than the calendar show­ing December 25 to make it Christmas. As a matter of fact, in this country, Christmas begins anytime after the last bit is picked off the Thanksgiving turkey's carcass, and it extends to 11 :59 p.m., December 31. In order to make Christmas precisely that, many essentials must come into play: evergreens, tinsel, that dratted angel hair (found around and about the house 'til Easter), snow (real or otherwise), eggnog, spicy cakes and confections, gifts, fancy wrappings, ribbons, toys, children, Charles Dickens, Bing Crosby, laughter, love, and music.

Each and every year, the record shops are deluged with newly issued recor­dings made for our seasonal listening pleasure. We find record covers sporting pictures of Luciano Pavarotti dressed as Kris Kringle, Placido Domingo sur­rounded by the World's Most Angelic Choirboys (each, I'm certain, packed with a handshake buzzer in pocket), Dame Kiri on skis, John Williams and The Boston Elves, et cetera ad infinitum. All these cutesie covers, to be sure, pack Yuletide music which is guaranteed to delight; but what gets me is the overblown proportions to which the otherwise gentle music of The Season is pushed. We all have records of tenors singing "O, Holy Night," or orchestras blasting "Adeste, Fideles" a la Meyerbeeric pageantry. Christmas music is music of reverence and certainly gentleness. Let's remember why it exists in the first place!

Rita Ford, the grand doyenne of mechanical music machines, gives to us still another collection of what I prefer to think of as the True Sound of Christmas. Make no mistake; these are not tinkly little music boxes like those which come stuffed inside teddy bears (do they still make those?), but rather large, imposing pieces of furniture con­taining magnificently crafted harps which are plucked either by the tines on long, brass cylinders or by those on large discs. These wonderful machines are most rich in sound and carry majestical1y sonorous bass responses, characteristics most impressively reveal­ed on this digitally recorded release. The arrangements of the songs are excep­tionally intricate and are certain to hold one's musical interest completely.

The seasonal music is presented here with great reverence and respect and has a rather sobering effect upon the listener, putting the Yuletide back into its proper perspective. I was much taken by the way the recordoing is presented. It begins with the invitation "Adeste, Fideles," which welcomes the listener to the rest of the program to follow. Various Christmas chestnuts, some familiar and some new, follow. I myself was much taken by "Monastery Bells" with its entrancing glissandi--downright hypnotizing coming from the music box--and "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," which brings the essential children's element into the season so well. Included also is "See the Conquer­ing Hero" from Handel's Judas Mac­cabaeus, so, in a way, Chanukah is celebrated here as well. "Last Hour of the Year" and "Auld Lang Syne" bring the recording (and the season) to a close.

I strongly recommend that you not only order this but volume 1 as well, if you have not done so already. For gift giving these two volumes will be cherished more than nearly anything else, for what can be better for Christmas than giving Christmas itself?

Review of Rita Ford's Joyous Music Box Christmas on page 1

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