Horns for the Holidays (HDCD review)

Jerry Junkin, Dallas Wind Symphony. Reference Recordings RR-126.

Over the past thirty-odd years, the name Reference Recordings has become synonymous with excellent performances and audiophile-quality sound. Their 2012 release Horns for the Holidays is no exception and affords another excellent example of how good recorded music can be.

The concert that Maestro Jerry Junkin and the Dallas Wind Symphony perform combines popular Christmas songs with traditional and classical Christmas numbers for a most-joyous occasion. The program begins with John Wasson’s “Festive Fanfare,” a mélange of tunes that shows off the trumpets especially well. You might have to wonder how well a wind band can bring off these sometimes delicate selections, the answer being, very well, indeed. The Dallas ensemble performs like a precision instrument, all the players apparently virtuosos in their own right. As a group they sound as a single note, a single unit, and they bring with them all the nuance of a virtuoso force.

For the second selection, we get Leroy Anderson’s familiar “Sleigh Ride,” a song I grew up with and thought had been around forever. You’ll recognize it immediately and probably figure the same thing I did. But Anderson wrote it in 1948, a truly instant classic, here played with gusto by the Dallas Winds.

Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” gets a lovely concert-band arrangement that exemplifies the nuanced approach I mentioned above. Then, for a change of pace, we get David Lovreien’s “Minor Alterations: Christmas Through the Looking Glass,” in which we find any number of well-known tunes hiding out in other guises. It’s charming.

And so it goes. You’ll enjoy “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” (“chestnuts roasting by an open fire”), “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Deck the Halls.” Moreover, Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival” will no doubt delight you, and it will shake your rafters with its vibrant audio response; and John Wasson’s “Jingle Bells Fantasy” takes an innovative look at the old Christmas war-horse done up in new trapings.

The program draws to an end with the longest track on the disc, Alfred Reed’s “Russian Christmas Music,” based on Russian folk music; followed by “Christmas and Sousa Forever,” a clever interweaving of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” and various Christmas favorites. It will make you smile and provides a befitting finale to a collection of joyful, festive tunes.

Producers Tamblyn Henderson and Donald McKinney and engineer Keith Johnson recorded the music at Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, Texas, in 2011. As always, Reference Recordings goes for ultimate realism with this HDCD, resulting in a well-balanced, extended frequency range recording that offers plenty of impact. Bass is particularly lifelike, showing a strong, deep punch that makes you feel you’re in the hall with the players. A light, warm, natural hall resonance complements the sound, supplying an added verisimilitude to the recording. For a tour-de-force of winds, try the “Minor Alterations” track.

You can find Reference Recordings products at almost any retailer, and you can find more information about them at their Web site: http://www.referencerecordings.com/

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa