CD Review:

William Henry Fry
– Santa Claus Symphony (Label: Naxos)
Tony Rowe
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Santa Claus, Christmas Symphony/Overture to Macbeth/Niagara Symphony/The Breaking Heart

Santa Claus Symphony was heard for the first time on Christmas Eve 1853 in a performance by the French conductor Louis Jullien. It was then arguably among the music critics – whether or not deserved to be called a symphony.

It does not, however, diminish the charm of this marvellous 20-minute programmatic scenario.

Willliam Henry Fry, the mid-19th century American composer, had enchanted his audience with this bold, light-hearted and hearty composition for Christmas.

The trumpet announces the birth of Christ. This is answered beautifully by the strings that swell to a climax with the exhilarating use of brass as a support. A taxing clarinet solo with a downward turn seems to raise the curtain on a Christmas Eve party and this gives way to a great snow-storm, with a lost and lonely traveller, which was portrayed by a rare double bass solo, perishing amid the drifts.

Soon the night descends, the composer employs the setting of text to instrumental declamation. The upper strings sing out The Lord's Prayer in syllabic cadence, followed by 'Rock-a-by baby' on the soprano saxophone. Muted strings even mimic the baby's breathing, while Santa enters in his horse-drawn sleigh with great enthusiasm. We can even imagine him sliding down the chimney with his bag of goodies, then departing with the sleigh bells before the strains of 'O Come All ye Faithful' which brings the work to its climax.

With a Christmas musical composition as lively and highly enjoyable as this, it really does not matter if it is called a symphony, a fantasy or an overture.

This is a well-recorded, super-bargain recording from Naxos. Most importantly, it contains all the mood-lifting elements you need for this coming festival.


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~ Written by Boon Sin Ler