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WORKS: Santa Claus Symphony; Macbeth; Niagara Symphony; The Breaking Heart
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Tony Rowe
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559057
Well, here’s something different! The Santa Claus Symphony by the American William Henry Fry was first performed in New York on Christmas Eve 1853 by the touring orchestra of Louis Jullien. Its programme is a glorious mixture of religion, fairy-tale and sheer sentimentality: the angels appear to the shepherds, there is a party with Scottish dancing, the Lord’s Prayer is recited as a child falls asleep, a traveller perishes miserably in a snowstorm, Santa Claus takes to the air, Christmas Day dawns to the sound of ‘Adeste fideles’. And the music is full of opportunities for Jullien’s star players, with solos for cornet, clarinet, double bass, bassoon, even the newly invented saxophone, and a sensational storm effect for the strings. Equally colourful are Fry’s depiction of Niagara, with rumbling timpani chords à la Berlioz; his Adagio called The Breaking Heart, full of early-Verdian melody and busy counter-melody; and his dramatic Macbeth Overture, which contains several instrumental ‘settings’ of Shakespeare. All this is historically important, as some of the earliest American orchestral music; it’s also highly entertaining. Anthony Burton