So it’s that time of year when Christmas records start appearing. The latest to come my way consists of musical settings by Rob Kapilow of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express and Dr. Seuss’ Gertrude McFuzz. Yes, it’s American and aimed at kids and if you were to place it on a spectrum of Christmas music that ran from Frosty the Snowman to Carols from King’s it would be decidedly closer to the former.The Polar Express, a Santa Claus story, is musically quite sophisticated with quotes and variations on a range of Christmas music; both traditional and modern. The main narrative toois sung in a straightforwardly operatic style by Nathan Gunn with great clarity. But there’s also a children’s chorus of the pop American kind rather than say the Wiener Knabenchor. This will probably determine your reaction to the piece.
Gertrude McFuzz, while perhaps not the best of Dr. Seuss, at least eschews Christmas sentimentality and is actually quite funny. The main narrative is sung by Isabel Leonard, who adopts a much more vernacular style than Mr. Gunn. It’s unashamedly American (“doctor” comes out as “daktuh”) and she dips into comic Central European for that character. She’s joined by Olivia Lombardi as Gertrude. She’s got one of those Shirley Temple voices that I guess one loves or hates!
Both pieces are played by the Metamorphosis Chamber Orchestra and are conducted by the composer. It’s to be released on Sunday on the GPR label with on-line availability through iTunes and physically via Naxos.
All in all this album is a whole lot better than most of what you will hear at the mall for the next two months but is definitely not for everyone.