A Romantic Christmas

Stephanie McCallum (pianist)

ABC Classics 476 4689

This selection of piano music really can be heard at any time of the year, but pianist Stephanie McCallum has chosen a lovely anthology of music which is directly related to the Christmas theme, or would suit the festive season. Amongst the glitter and fake snow that comes with this special time of year, it is sometimes rare to be musically nourished (unless copious doses of fine English cathedral carol services suit you). For those who like instrumental works where words don’t clutter the aural experience, then this recording by one of Australia’s finest pianists will satisfy.

Egon Petri’s transcription of JS Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze sets a reverential tone, whilst Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite capture the joy and sparkle of this all-time favourite ballet.

Grainger’s fascination with folk songs has  produced another lovely transcription on Sussex Mummers’ Christmas Carol. The Pastoral by Dohnanyi has a simplicity even with its many florid elevated lines.

Chordal textures predominant in a humble way with Tchaikovsky’s A l’eglise and the Schumann and Liszt versions of Weihnachtslieder, leading into to the 12 movement Weihnachtbaum (Christmas Tree), which is more complex and ambitious as it takes the listener on a journey through familiar carols such as O Holy Night, The Shephers at the Manger, O Come, All Ye Faithful and other motifs where we hear Evening Bells, Carillon and treatments of nativity ideas.

Julian Yu’s Jangled Bells is delightful in the twist he takes on this perennial favourite.

McCallum’s playing has clarity and real joie de vivre, making this CD a real pleasure to hear. In this collection she has assembled some lesser performed pieces as well as transcriptions which are little treasures for the pianist.

The Beatles Unplugged

Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Singers & Band
Created by Sally Whitwell and Daniel Walker
Featuring Rob Mills and Bobby Fox

City Recital Hall, Angel Place
Saturday, 25 August 2012

The timelessness of John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s songs was evident in the Sydney Philharmonia Chambers Singers’ foray into the realm of popular music. This select choral group, which was conducted by Dan Walker, communicated the 60’s and 70’s with its convincing combination of song, dance and costumes (colourful outfits ala Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band).

As Sally Whitwell (who created most of the amazing choral settings and instrumental arrangements) said in her notes, it was “genre defying”. The success of this programme was due to the Whitwell Walker duo’s extraordinary skill in choral arranging and their thorough preparation of the singers. It was an imaginative classical and pop fusion in this theatrical choral experience. Other arrangements were by Keith Abbs, Daryl Runswick and John Black.

The Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Singers are a world-class ensemble. In the many highlights, such as Penny Lane, Yesterday, All My Loving, Let It Be and A Day in the Life (with its Bach-inspired introduction and use of harpsichord accompaniment and even French Overture rhythms later), Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Blackbird and Back in the USSR (with its quirky but effective entrance of the Russian National Anthem), the audience was treated to beautifully blended voices and soothing tones as well as, at other times, robust and powerful moments. Finishing the concert with a stirring Hey Jude brought a return of both soloists, who were impressive in their solos and duos, interacting well with both choir and audience.

The psychedelic projections, gobo lighting, small instrumental ensemble and engaging singing will live in one’s memory showing this organisation is as comfortable singing pop and rock, as it does high-end classical works.