20 DECEMBER 1975, Page 27


In season

John Bridcut

When you've seen one carol concert, you've seen them all. By Christmas there will have been more than twenty-five of these jolly occasions in central London alone. Now I don't dispute the wisdom of a seasonal element in programme planning, but a diet of carols, Messiah, Christmas Oratorio and The Nutcracker is not unmitigated bliss, or even near it. The ENO's new production of Salome was cunningly timed for Advent, although staging it on Christmas Eve may cause Santa •Claus some lurid dreams. Sir Walter Scott it was who said, " 'Twas Christmas broach'd the mightiest ale, 'twas Christmas told the merriest tale": luckily a few musicians have a keen sense of the rubicund and the bizarre — as in the recent evenings devoted to Offenbach and the orchestra music of Sullivan. If you likewise yearn for a more saturnalian tang to offset the tinsel, two records, rather off the beaten track, may amuse you.

On The Anna Russell Album? (CBS 61665 £1.99), the good lady delights her New York audience as she talks, sings and plays the piano, rather like Joyce Grenfell. But I suspect that her 'wonderful English accent,' lazily blasé, had more to do with it than did her subject matter, which mostly made me chuckle rather than guffaw. On one side, she writes her own Gilbert and Sullivan opera, and on the other, analyses The Ring ("The scene opens in the River Rhine. In it.") With a recording of a live talk, one missed the nuances of facial expression and gesture, but Miss Russell's delivery is faultless.

Siegmund falls madly in love with Sieglinde, regardless of the fact that she's married to Hunding, which is immoral, and that she's his own sister, which is illegal ...But that's the beauty of grand opera — you can do anything, so long as you sing it.

The funniest part of all is Edward Sorel's cartoon on the sleeve, in which rabbit, fox, tortoise, gnu and lion are in aghast and frenzied flight before the flood issuing from the towering colossus that is Brtinnhilde. A good present for Bernard Levin, if you happen to know him.

The second disc is Monster Concert (CBS 73227 £2.99), previously released in America, which comprises a medley of arrangements for up to ten pianos and sixteen pianists, headed by Eugene List and bravely conducted by Samuel Adler. It results from a concert at the Eastman School of Music in New York in 1972, and, less directly, from the 1861 'festival gigantica' in Havana, in which no less than thirty-nine pianists played Ojos Criollos by Louis Gottschalk. (The 1872 Peace Jubilee in Boston had an orchestra of 2,000 and a chorus of 20,000, but let's keep to pianos.) Gottschalk is well represented on this disc, which also features Rossini overtures, waltzes by Johann Strauss, 'Stars and Stripes Forever' and Scott Joplin's 'Maple Leaf Rag.' The precise ensemble of the players and the variety of tone colour are commendable, as is the standard of recording, with' antiphonal effects fully employed in the William Tell overture and the 'Thunder and Lightning Polka.' The sound of all those ivories is much less monotonous than you would expect, though it is not the ideal way to hammer a Hogmanay hangover.