Horns for the Holidays / Junkin, Dallas Wind Symphony

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If you are a lover of Christmas music—carols, popular songs, and all manner of medleys and clever arrangements of such—and you miss this extraordinary recording by the first-rate Dallas Wind Symphony, then your holiday listening stands to be just a bit more dull, less festive, and more ordinary than it could have been. This is a terrific program, in exemplary sound, that not only celebrates the Christmas music tradition but exemplifies the best of the wind ensemble genre, with its unique sonorities and long tradition of both originality and sense of playfulness and humor on the part of composers and arrangers.

The program opens with the obligatory fanfare—suitably titled Festival Fanfare—a nifty arrangement by John Wasson commissioned by the Dallas Wind Symphony, not surprisingly a showpiece for horns, full of familiar Christmas tunes. A decent but kinda square Sleigh Ride follows, along with a straightforward arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring that beautifully exhibits the colors and rich textures of a first-rate wind band.

Among the highlights: my favorite, a celebration of the much-maligned minor mode—DWS saxophonist David Lovrien’s Minor Alterations: Christmas Through the Looking Glass, a “recasting” of favorite Christmas songs and carols (and even snippets of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker combined with Deck the Hall!) into a wonderful medley of minor-key madness (along with some melodic and rhythmic twists) that definitely calls for repeated listening. Another standout is The Christmas Song, with its fine alto sax solo by Donald Fabian, swingingly accompanied by the ensemble.

The big “classical” work is an arrangement simply called Russian Christmas Music, which apparently draws its sources from “Russian folk and Eastern Orthodox church music”. At almost 14 minutes, it’s by far the program’s most substantial entry, and it does show a wider range of technical virtuosity and different aspect of interpretive awareness than required in most of the other works, even if Alfred Reed’s arrangement begins to seem a bit long for the material after about 10 minutes. Never mind; any drift of attention is quickly recalled front and center with the concluding Christmas And Sousa Forever—the title giving away the concept. Wait until you hear how arranger Julie Giroux juxtaposes excerpts from such Christmas favorites as Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker with The Stars and Stripes Forever (and a couple of other marches)—not to mention the way she accompanies Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with that famous piccolo solo! It’s tempting to use that well-worn line, “if you buy only one Christmas CD this season, this one should be it”—but I won’t; I’ll just say that if by chance it is the only one, you won’t be disappointed.

-- David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 11, 2012

  • Catalog Number: RR-126

  • UPC: 030911112622

  • Label: Reference Recordings

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: David Lovrien, Hugh Martin, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Wasson, Leroy Anderson, Loras John Schissel, Mel Torme, Traditional, Walter Kent

  • Conductor: Jerry Junkin

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Dallas Wind Symphony