Eloquence Christmas reissues
These are not new releases; they appeared in 2012. However, as I am a big fan of the Eloquence label, and these are wonderful - and significant - reissues, I wanted to give them a brief review here.
The Fiedler/Boston Pops is a glorious example of Eloquence at its finest. The remastering is a great improvement over the earlier DG "Galleria" issue - so much so that it sounds newly recorded. The original Galleria was consistently disappointing, year after year, sounding cold and devoid of warmth and body to the orchestra, and just not clean. I am certain DG hadn't used the original master tapes; and DG is hardly the only record label to treat its Christmas albums as second rate. It left one wondering why DG re-recorded this repertoire which RCA had already done so with such success in the late 50s. Indeed, the RCA Living Stereo issue consistently sounded better than the newer DG. Now, with a thorough remastering by Eloquence, one hears the improvements made in recorded technology over the intervening decade(s) and the orchestra once again sounds like the familiar Boston Symphony (in all but name).
Additional music has been added also. Now we get 3 Nutcracker exerpts (Sugar Plum Fairy & Reed Pipes dances are added to the Waltz of the Flowers - one wonders why Fiedler didn't record the entire suite?), and a 4th Bach selection has been added to the previous 3. Hearing again Fiedler's heartfelt rendition of Humperdinck's Dream Pantomime from Hansel and Gretel, it is surely one of the highlights of the entire disc. Another highlight is White Christmas, in Mason's gorgeous arrangement, played here just as tenderly singing as in Fiedler's RCA version of it. It must be said, though, that this reading of Sleigh Ride is not the most festive you'll hear. And the trumpet's horse whinny at the end hasn't much enthusiasm. I suspect this was recorded in the heat of summer in Boston and no one was in any mood to play it! Be that as it may, this disc is a holiday mainstay and I urge everyone to replace the old Galleria immediately.
Christmas With the Academy is a 1994 Philips recording, with excellent singing and very good sound. It does not receive a new remastering here by Eloquence - confirmed by the remaining presence of a glare and digital edge over the sopranos/trebles in forte passages. Fortunately, it does not happen often, as much of this music is rather quiet and devotional. In those few, full-bodied passages, it sounds curiously like the choir is joined by boy trebles, which may be contributing to the problem. But as there is no mention made of a boy choir among the performers, I can't say for sure. But again, it does not occur often.
This CD consists of traditional, Classical, choral selections arranged in a way which makes the program sound very much like a liturgical service. There are mercifully no spoken interjections. However, the (excellent) choir is given prominence, many parts sung a capella, and they are occasionally joined by various soloists. The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields is very much relegated to an accompanying role. If you're in the mood for a proper, sacred and, at times wonderfully meditative concert, this is as good as it gets. You'll never hear a better church choir program.
Musica Sacra is a New York-based professional choral group, founded by its conductor, Richard Westenburg, in the late 60s. This 65-minute Christmas collection is just pure a capella choral ensemble singing - with no soloists (which can so often be obtrusive and annoying). Indeed, this is full-bodied, glorious American choral singing at its finest. Recorded in 1987, this material has only intermittently been available in the past, however I see that Amazon has once again listed the original 1990 DG release on its site. This concert was also available at one time in harness with other Christmas fare of lesser value, on a budget DG compilation. I have not heard the 1990 DG release, but can only assume the Eloquence is a direct reissue, as no mention is made of a remastering. And it sounds excellent here - clear and full, in arguably the perfect acoustic: somewhat up close and intimate, but within a naturally reverberant and warm ambiance. However, this is far from a big, cathederal-like sound, which blends the voices differently.
This group is not quite the equal in perfectly blended sonorities and variety of moods and textures as heard on my absolute favorite Christmas choral recording: Christmas with the Dale Warland Singers (Gothic Records). But this DG recording is clearer and better focused, with more than enough warmth to completely satisfy.
Many thanks, once again, to Eloquence for not only making all these great recordings available, at a great price, but for consistenly providing excellent sound as well. Now if they would reissue just one more from the Decca group (perhaps with a new remastering), we'd have a complete set. A long-time favorite of mine is a 1979 Philips recording entitled A Festival of Christmas Carols, with Colin Davis conducting the superb John Alldis Choir and the London Symphony Orchestra. This is a set of completely wonderful arrangements by Peter Hope, all gloriously and energetically performed in warm, vintage Philips analog sound. A slight freshening of the sound (a little more sparkle on top and a bit more of an open, dynamic soundstage) would bring benefits, although it is perfectly pleasing and more than acceptable on the original Philips issue. But alas it has long been unavailable and deserves a new release.
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