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A Christmas Carol: Simon Callow with The Brighouse and Rastrick Band

A Christmas CarolSimon Callow has been a knowledgeable figure in theatre on Charles Dickens (1812-1870) for some time. I recall seeing one of his solo shows, The Mystery of Charles Dickens, a mesmerising biographical show in which everyone from his wife to characters in Oliver Twist were featured in a rather intense and fast-paced production. This audio recording, relatively more moderately-paced, is a version of another of his one-man shows, A Christmas Carol, and comes across as one of those stories told so vividly but measuredly on BBC Radio 4. Not every sound effect that could have been included is heard, such is the trust placed in the text, adapted from Dickens, to portray what needs to be portrayed clearly enough.

The story will be familiar to many, and there are no big surprises in this recording, which stays faithful to the Dickens storyline. A Christmas Carol was always significantly less repetitive than some of Dickens’ other works, mostly because the other works in question, like The Pickwick Papers, first appeared in weekly instalments before they were published in book form. But A Christmas Carol is streamlined even more in this recording, which makes this well-known tale remarkably fresh.

The gloomier aspects were suitably bleak, and the cheerier moments fully heartening (that a local boy managed to get a Christmas turkey for Mr Scrooge in “four minutes and twenty-seven seconds” makes today’s Deliveroo and Just Eat services comparatively snail-paced). It’s good old-fashioned storytelling: if the portrayal of every character isn’t necessarily voiced as convincingly as it would in, say, a motion picture adaptation, this is a negligible point. That said, Tiny Tim does sound a little too grown up, and the recording could be ultimately enhanced with at least one or two more voiceover actors.

In any event, there’s a second disc full of music played by a brass band (specifically, The Brighouse and Rastrick Band, based in Yorkshire, whose history has been illustrious to say the least). It would get many listeners into the Christmas spirit on its own. Portions of the same music permeate the first disc, making the story as Christmassy as possible. Part of me actually thinks it’s a tad overkill. A larger part of me thinks I ought to embrace it, given the story’s enduring message that Christmas is to be celebrated. Given the nature of the melodies featured, there’s a nostalgic, traditional and heart-warming feel to proceedings.

Engaging and enthusiastic, Simon Callow’s A Christmas Carol is a warm and delightful seasonal recording.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Originally self-published by Dickens in 1843, his legendary Christmas tale is now beautifully and dramatically presented afresh by using music to enhance Simon Callow’s superb narration on CD one. A second CD features all of the well-loved full-length Christmas carols performed by The Brighouse and Rastrick Band. The album includes Silent Night, Away In A Manger and O Come All Ye Faithful to name just a few.

A Christmas Carol Trailer

TRACK LISTING
CD 1
1. STAVE 1 – Marley’s Ghost
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
The Angel Gabriel
2. Once upon a time
Good King Wenceslas
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
3. While all this was going on
Silent Night
4. Now, it is a fact that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker
5. STAVE 2 – The First Of The Three Spirits
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
Ding Dong Merrily
The First Nowell
The Holly And The Ivy
6. Come on. Quick! my time grows short
The Angel Gabriel
7. Scrooge was abruptly conscious of being exhausted
STAVE 3 – The Second Of The Three Spirits
In Dulce Jubilo
The Sussex Carol
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
8. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked
Hark The Herald Angels Sing
9. It was a great surprise to Scrooge
10. The time is drawing near
STAVE 4 – The Last Of The Spirits
Coventry Carol
11. They entered the city
Good King Wenceslas
12. The scene disappeared
In The Bleak Midwinter
13. STAVE 5 – The End Of It
Joy To The World
The First Nowell
14. Then he turned his steps towards his nephew’s house
15. He was early at the office next morning
Silent Night
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

CD 2
1. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
2. Silent Night
3. Good King Wenceslas
4. In Dulci Jubilo
5. Away in A Manger
6. The Holy And The Ivy
7. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
8. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
9. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
10. The Angel Gabriel
11. O Come All Ye Faithful
12. Ding Dong Merrily On High
13. Sussex Carol
14. Hark The Herald Angels Sing
15. Coventry Carol
16. The First Nowell
17. Once in Royal David’s City
18. In The Bleak Midwinter
19. Joy To The World

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