Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Philip Lane: Three Christmas Pictures

Philip Lane’s charming Three Christmas Pictures is my seasonal discovery (so far) of 2011. I have had the Marco Polo CD in my collection for a wee while, but only recently got round to listening to it. This work is a little gem.
There are three contrasting movements: - ‘Sleigh bell Serenade’, ‘Starlight Lullaby’ and ‘Christmas Eve Waltz’.  The first movement would seem to be the most popular – in fact Naxos claim that is has been performed all over Britain, and on every inhabited continent. Perhaps someone has even got this track loaded on their iPod in the Antarctic!
It was first recorded in Australia in 1986. It was first performed by Ron Goodwin and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra during Christmas 1981. A number of years later words were added to produce a choral version. The work is scored for full orchestra with a vast array of percussion – including Chinese blocks, whip, tubular bells and the inevitable sleigh bells. The entire piece lasts for about 10 minutes. 
The opening movement takes it place alongside Fred. Delius’ Sleigh Ride, Prokofiev’s Troika and Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. It is a perfect evocation of a journey we would all like to make –on an evening through the forests when the snow was deep and crisp and even. 
The second movement, the Starlight Lullaby is a truly beautiful miniature. This music conjures images of both the baby Jesus and excited children desperately trying to get off to sleep on Christmas Eve before Santa Claus makes his special deliveries! In spite of the nod to Henry Mancini’s Moon River, this is a well worked out piece of music that deserves to be heard alongside the more famous first movement.
The final impression is the lovely Christmas Eve Waltz. I guess this evokes a time and a place long gone – if it ever really existed except in the mind of Charles Dickens. However this particular waltz is probably from the 1950’s. It is a perfect pastiche of the light music genre – and that is not a criticism.
It would be nice of Classic FM picked up on this piece for their Christmas playlists. It certainly takes its place amongst the other seasonal pieces that I mentioned above. It would also be good for organiser of Carol Concerts to include this work as a purely orchestral item to balance the singing.
The Three Christmas Pictures are available on Marco Polo 8.225185 alongside other pieces by the composer.

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