New Classical Tracks: A bountiful package of musical memories


What memories make Christmastime special for you? A tree bursting with twinkling lights, or a special dish like rice pudding, perhaps?

For most of us, music is what makes the season most personal. It offers a variety of expression that goes beyond the decorations, and it goes great with the holiday menu.

American composer Leroy Anderson proved that point over and over again by writing seasonal music that's now part of the Christmas tradition for many of us.   In honor of the 100th anniversary of Leroy Anderson's birth this past year, conductor Leonard Slatkin recorded all of Anderson's compositions with the BBC Concert Orchestra. The final release in this series is filled with holiday favorites, starting off with his classic "Sleigh Ride."

Leroy Anderson was born in June, and this familiar piece with the clip-clopping horses pulling the sleigh was written during a summer heat wave. In fact, all the winter pieces Leroy Anderson wrote were conceived on hot summer days. That's because Christmas recordings had to be finished in July so the record distributors would have them by Oct. 1.

This performance of "Sleigh Ride" with the BBC Concert Orchestra is full of smiles and all the equestrian sound effects we've come to expect in this light-hearted winter gem.   You won't be disappointed in the BBC Concert Orchestra's performance of Anderson's "Christmas Festival Overture," either. Anderson wrote this work at the request of Arthur Fiedler, who wanted the Boston Pops to record a special concert number using Christmas songs.

Rather than simply creating a medley, Anderson built an overture around these well-known melodies. The bold brass and the carefree wind section whisk us away to a winter wonderland filled with familiar carols. Anderson's music had a playful side, which we hear in the vivid sound effects he used in popular pieces like "The Typewriter" and "Sleigh Ride."

Then there's the more contemplative side, which is represented on this recording in carols like "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Here, the wind section gently rolls into this hymn, making way for haunting solos by the English horn and the oboe.   The flute section takes center stage in Anderson's arrangement of "Patapan." I love how this short little piece builds as the wind sections develop a fascinating fugue.

A delicate "Suite of Carols for String Orchestra" closes out this new holiday recording. It sounds like Leroy Anderson channeled British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams when he wrote this lush string arrangement.

Music helps capture the memories that make Christmastime so special. Leonard Slatkin and the BBC Concert Orchestra have wrapped up some of these memories with a big red bow on this new collection of holiday favorites from an American composer whose music has become part and parcel of our popular culture.