Christmas with Kiri
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
London Voices (chorus master Terry Edwards
Christmas with Kiri was recorded in 1983 and first released on Decca in 1985.
It was recorded at a time when Kiri Te Kanawa was at the peak of her career and marked the beginning of collaboration between her and Carl Davis most notably in Paul McCartney requesting to have Kiri for his Liverpool Oratorio. It followed the Blue Skies album with Nelson Riddle, her first crossover album.
The album has not been available for many years and Carl Davis Collection has recently required the license to re-release it on its label.
Christmas with Kiri is a crossover album with many traditional and popular Christmas songs from White Christmas to Twelve Days of Christmas featuring classics, popular and film.
The album was amongst the first group of crossover albums made by Kiri at the time, with Westside Story and South Pacific following.
The album also contains a song specially written for the occasion by Carl Davis The Most Wonderful Birthday of All
Licensed to the Carl Davis Collection the album will only be available in physical format and not for digital downloads.
How we met: In 1981 the works of the Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler came out of copyright and the world rushed into production of his most famous play, ‘La Ronde’. I had the luck to be chosen to compose the score for the BBC TV version to be directed by Kenneth Ives. Ken, a former actor and then a successful television and stage director, revealed to me that he was a devoted fan of the celebrated soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, then at the summit of her career, performing regularly at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She would soon be making her first “crossover” LP, Blue Skies with Nelson Riddle and was thinking about a Christmas LP.
Meanwhile back at TV Centre Ken was trying to convince me, by hook or crook, to involve Kiri in his production of ‘La Ronde’. “But there are no songs, no lyrics for me to set” I pointed out. Pause. I was thinking hard. “What about a vocalise, a wordless siren’s call, signalling the happy hour(s) spent lovemaking. Perhaps a laendler, the traditional slow Viennese waltz but I would have to compose it first. I don’t think Kiri will accept it on spec. “
So I did write it and Ken and I embarked for Paris, at the BBC’s expense, where Kiri was performing the role of the Marschallin in Strauss’s opera, ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ at the Theatre des Champs Elysée. An appointment was made to see us after the performance. Unfortunately there was a heavy snow storm, the flight was delayed for 7 hours and we barely made the curtain. After the performance we stumbled backstage, which was completely unguarded, to Kiri’s dressing room where the lady was having her powdered wig removed. She knew nothing of the appointment. I collapsed into a nearby armchair. “Look, we travelled through a blizzard to get here.” Observing my exhausted face and Ken’s disappointment, she replied, “How long would you need?” “The song is 3 minutes”. “I’ll give you 10, tomorrow afternoon after my rehearsal, 5.45.” The next day I played and sang the song with my croaky composer’s voice. She liked it and several weeks later, recorded it. Not long after that, I had a call from Paul Myers of Decca Records, “would you like to conduct a Christmas album with Kiri?” In March 1985, it was made.
My first task was to make a long short list - more than needed but not overwhelming and together with Kiri and Paul, whittle it down to 12 tracks. The story of Christmas has always been unchanged but the range of styles in which it is celebrated is enormously varied from church and school to the theatre, opera, dance, concert and just plain songs, folk and pop. The global spread of the celebration is also very varied and offers beautiful and exciting choices. This was really going to be fun. We start with a clutch of songs created for Hollywood films - Irving Berlin’s classic ‘White Christmas’ complete with a piano and oboe introduction beautifully played by the Philharmonia’s then and current principal oboist, Gordon Hunt and a soaring obligatory for the solo voice, needless to say, effortlessly performed by Kiri. ‘Winter Wonderland’ is a pop song dating from 1934. My novelty is to change what might be a jolly sleigh ride into a slow, rather suggestive canter. Back to films with the poignant ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ from the 1944 period musical ‘Meet Me In St Louis’. Now I must point out the splendid arrangements by David Cullen, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s principal orchestrator for ‘Cats’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’. David also orchestrated brilliantly my ‘Simple Man’ ballet and my score for the film ‘Champions’ as well as the lion’s share of this LP. ‘Silver Bells’, a popular song from an obscure film, ‘The Lemon Drop Kid’, starring Bob Hope, acquired a tintinnabulating arrangement and concludes this group.
As my first encounter with Kiri had been as a composer, I felt compelled to suggest to her that I attempt to compose a new song for the album. I approached the distinguished lyricist and producer Norman Newell to create it with me and the result was ‘The Most Wonderful Birthday of All’. Exciting as the recording was, the live concert that followed was even more so. A special tear always follows the line “the birthday that brings us together”. Bravo, Norman!
Inspiration from folk music is here as well. Apparently the touching ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ has Czech origins and achieved success with a 1956 recording by the Trapp Family Singers. Then off to the Caribbean for the Calypso-inspired ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, achieving success in 1956 as sung by Harry Belafonte and more recently Boney M. Turning classical now, I wanted to exploit Kiri’s technical credentials and burst into the studio crowing, “What obscure Handel oratorio is this from?” My joke fell flat, but Kiri’s performance of ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’ was anything but. Staying in the folk genre I asked the distinguished British composer, Colin Matthews to arrange the exquisite traditional Spanish carol, ‘The Virgin Washes the Swaddling’ for a rather austere ensemble of cor anglais, harp and strings and he responded magnificently with this glowing orchestration.
An extraordinary circumstance surrounds our arrangement of the Tyrolean composer, Franz Gruber’s 1818 carol, ‘Silent Night.’ On a family holiday in Austria, I notice a handcrafted harp standing in a corner of the hotel. Making inquiries as to its origin, I was told that making harps was a winter pastime of the local farmers and was an ongoing tradition, with many harp ensembles playing folk and Christmas music. I immediately thought of using a group of harps for this new arrangement. We take a more operatic tone with French composer, Adolphe Adam’s ‘O Holy Night’.
Composed in 1847, five years after the epoch making success with his score for the ballet ‘Giselle’ and this song shares some of the ballet’s Act 2 floating music. The finale had to be the ultimate present song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. Each of the gifts have their very own instruments and once announced, remain there to form an accompaniment starting with solo piano (only one partridge) and continuing in pairs until “five gold rings” which earns a solo high trumpet. The matching continues (solo cello for the swans) and a grandiose tutti when we reach twelfth gift.
The LP sold well, going Gold by 1988, converted to CD in the 90’s, much anthologised and reissued by Decca as part of a four CD set in the distinguished company of Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi and Leontyne Price. Kiri is now Dame Kiri and continues to perform. What the record did for me was to provide a unique concert repertoire of Christmas music which I enthusiastically add to with each season. Kiri and I were involved in several concerts in the years that followed until in 1991 when a unique event occurred. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned a new work to celebrate their 150th anniversary. This led to collaboration with Paul McCartney which became ‘Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio’. Paul and I were very involved in casting the work which involved four soloists. In true McCartney style he demanded, “Who is the best soprano in the world?” There was only one answer… unquestionably, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
14 September 2012
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|3||Have yourself a merry little Christmas|
|5||The little drummer boy|
|6||The most wonderful birthday of all|
|7||Mary’s boy child|
|8||Angels from the Realms of Glory|
|9||The Virgin washes the swaddling|
|10||Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht|
|11||O holy night (Minuit chrétien)|
|12||The Twelve Days of Christmas|