Roderick Elms: Festive Frolic - A Celebration of Christmas

... pure pleasure ...

Having for twenty years taken the annual chore of selecting music for the Christmas Carol Concert in one of the UK's largest concert halls, I soon discovered the lamentable lack of suitable 'symphonic' material.

I would have welcomed these highly attractive original works and carol settings from the multi-talented British musician, Roderick Elms, his carols dressed in trendy orchestral colours. The short brassy Fanfare da Festa gives the disc its lift-off and from therein it is pure pleasure, the Joyful Company of Singers mixing sophistication with the vigour many of the carols require. I hope Bach and other composers not credited in the heading will not be offended, as Elms is the main ingredient, even turning Sleepers Awake into a jazzy little number. I particularly enjoy his large-scale and red-blooded Wassail Down the Wind, three festive drinking songs scored for organ and orchestra, and among his other original works Festive Frolic just strays into 'crossover' music. Stephen Bell, well-known in this field of music, directs a highly responsive Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the sound quality is very good. Something a little different for Christmas.

Review by Greenfield, November/December 2009
8.570793 - Roderick Elms: Festive Frolic - A Celebration of Christmas

... the mood is as reverent as you could want.

Roderick Elms, the noted British pianist, organist, and composer whose arrangements are heard here, isn't shy about working swooning harmonies and show-bizzy licks into such holiday classics as 'Angels from the Realms of Glory', 'We Three Kings', 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel' and (from another neck of the Christmas woods) 'Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer'. But not one of them collapses under its own harmonic weight. The timeless melodies are embroidered, but never distorted. And there's a coherence to the writing that doesn't force you to dig through layers of stylistic strata to get to the heart of the music.

'Away in a Manger' may sport a "lushy-gushy" beginning, but when the choir enters the mood is as reverent as you could want. There are tacky moments (did we really need the drum beat in 'Angels from the Realms of Glory'? *); but nothing in the special effects department calls attention to itself for long. Most affecting are Elms's take on the 'Cherry Tree Carol' and his instrumental arrangements of Bach's 'Wachet auf' and 'Sheep May Safely Graze' with a pair of French horns "singing" the melody lines in those celestial chorales. The other orchestral interludes are happy and bright.

( *I'm puzzled at this as there is no drum beat in this particular arrangement - just a gentle shaker reinforcing the latin style! RE )

CD News and Reviews
Roderick Elms: Festive Frolic - A Celebration of Christmas
Joyful Company of Singers
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Stephen Bell

Beautifully played and sung ...

Roderick Elms' Christmas music ranges from charming and witty arrangements of wellloved traditional carols to new setlings and festive orchestral pieces written for the season.

The selection on this CD represents some of his most popular works, together with a few new ones.

Beautifully played and sung by the RPO and the Joyful Company of Singers this gives a slightly different take on the inevitable Christmas releases. An enjoyable CD though I suspect most people will already have their own Christmas selections sorted out.

A Nice Collection of Christmas Music, December 6, 2007
Timothy Kearney

.... the quality of this CD far exceeds its price.

Each year I try and add new Christmas music to my CD collection. While I love the old standards, I also look for recordings that offer new and interesting ways of hearing the wonderful music associated with this time of year. One pleasant addition to my collection is this release from Naxos: FESTIVE FROLIC. It contains beautifully performed Christmas music with some interesting and original arrangements.

The collection gets its title from a piece composed by Roderick Elms who arranged most of the music contained in this collection. The piece is not a Christmas work per se, but fits well in the collection. The principal ensembles who perform the music are the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Stephen Bell and a group called The Joyful Company of Singers. Most of the music is familiar Christmas music, drawn from the English carol tradition. An overture of sorts "Fanfare da Festa" begins the CD and makes listeners anticipate the beautiful music that will follow. A rendition of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" performed by tenor Mark Wilde and the chorus leads us from Advent to Christmas. We then hear three carols familiar to British audiences ("Gabriel's Message, "Rocking" and "Angels from the Realms of Glory set to tune most Americans would associate with "Angels We Have Heard On High"). "The Cherry Tree Carol" and "Away In A Manger" sound similar to John Rutter/Cambridge Singers renditions and are performed with the same beauty and attention to detail. "Wassail Down The Wind" is almost an organ and orchestra fantasia of well known Yuletide music The liner notes mention that Elms wanted to make sure that the organ, an instrument that often accompanies Christmas music gets some attention of its own. The collection concludes with a number of Christmas carols and holiday music and concludes with its one secular piece, "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer."

Like many Naxos recordings, the quality of this CD far exceeds its price. The music is performed well and it's interesting to listen to with it's at times traditional and other times original arrangements. I know I'll be enjoying it this Christmas and more than likely will for years to come.

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
December 2007

Between them they give us a rousing Christmas party ... a huge, joyful noise indeed.

Roderick Elms is a prolific composer, arranger and orchestrator as well as a keyboard player of repute. On this generously priced release he leaves Stuart Nicholson to play the organ with the aptly named Joyful Company Of Singers in fine voice taking care of the words and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra doing the rest. Between them they give us a rousing Christmas party. We open with one of 11 world premiere recordings: "Fanfare da Festa" that incorporates snippets of nine well known Christmas tunes. This is followed by Elms' arrangement of the 15th century "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" featuring the tenor Mark Wilde. We get several more new arrangements of old carols, a beautiful arrangement of Bach's "Sleepers Awake!", three arrangements of festive drinking songs with the unfortunate title of "Wassail Down The Wind", and finish up with a jolly version of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer". Some of the new arrangements are charming and witty and we can understand why they have become so popular so quickly. Some, though - and I am thinking of "Coventry Carol" and "Silent Night" - are too sentimental for this reviewer but it's Christmas, so let's just enjoy the fun.

If you loved the "big sound" Christmas recordings of mid-20th century by the likes of Robert Shaw and Eugene Ormandy, you need to hear the fresh settings of traditional carols as well as new pieces by Roderick Elms on "Festive Frolic." The Joyful Company of Singers, the Royal Philharmonic, and a massive organ make for a huge, joyful noise indeed.

Fun-filled Christmas title with lots of family favourites
Elms Festive Frolic - A Celebration of Christmas
Joyful Company of Singers, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Stephen Bell (conductor)

... charming and witty arrangements.

The Joyful Company of Singers 'are undoubtedly one of the great choirs of the world, with their virtuosity and intense spirit', multi-award-winners and frequent guests at international festivals. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is 'Britain's National Orchestra'.

RODERICK ELMS' CHRISTMAS MUSIC ranges from charming and witty arrangements of well-loved traditional carols to new settings and festive orchestral pieces written for this very special season. The charm and immediate appeal of his music has been captivating audiences across the country for many years and this selection represents some of his most popular works, together with a few new ones such as the spectacular suite Wassail Down the Wind for organ and orchestra.

Roderick Elms: Festive Frolic (Naxos 8.570793)
Performance 4.5/5 Sonics 3/5

Roderick Elms writes and arranges lovely stuff ...

British composer Roderick Elms writes and arranges lovely stuff that gets widely performed in the U.K. After hearing this disc, one hopes it will receive many airings in the U.S. as well. Stephen Bell conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Peter Broadbent's Joyful Company of Singers, with fine contributions from tenor Mark Wilde and organist Stuart Nicholson. Though this disc can’t match Telarc or Sony/BMG for sound quality, it is still a joy.

Dutton Epoch CDLX7175

Andrew Lamb
Spring 2008

A breath of fresh air ...

This CD was issued in 2006 but seems not to have been reviewed here previously. More's the pity, because it's one of the most enjoyable British light music CDs to come my way in recent years. Roderick Elms's name will already be well enough known for his appearances on CD as solo pianist in music by Richard Addinsell, Hubert Bath and others. The music here, though, is by no means written just as a vehicle for his own performing talents. Indeed Elms appears only as soloist in the opening Concertino for Celeste and as pianist in a few other pieces.

Don't let the CD's somewhat gimmicky title, 'A Little Fall-ish!', put you off. The music belongs irrefutably to the British light music tradition. The CD title comes from the first movement of the delightful Four Seasonal Nocturnes for solo horn and orchestra, which capture aspects of the changing seasons in various countries. A breath of fresh air is above all what the CD conveys, with suggestions of Delius and Vaughan Williams in the restrained and delicate orchestration. That Elms has a fine ear for instrumental textures and colours is further demonstrated by the 'Fandango Fantastico' for organ and guitar, and not least by the final three-movement suite of arrangements of Bach for piano and orchestra. Altogether this is a CD of atmospheric and approachable music of real charm. Elms is very decidedly a composer worth getting to know.

Robert Matthew-Walker
January 2009

... this CD can be purchased with confidence.

A contemporary musician who is not afraid to describe his music as being part of the 'lighter' repertoire is Roderick Elms, now 57 years old, and a well-known figure in London orchestral circles as a keyboard player. Ten of his short pieces constitute the repertoire on a disc devoted entirely to him, in which he variously appears as piano and celeste soloist - the latter in his Concertino for celeste and small orchestra (is this a first for this instrument?). Elms's music makes no claims for profundity or serious intellectual content (hardly possible, with 15 individual movements averaging just over four minutes each), but all of these miniatures have attractive characteristics and are very expertly orchestrated. This is, [as with Amanda Jane Fox's piece mentioned earlier,] music which could have graced the soundtrack of those Look at Life short films, although the most substantial work is a three-movement suite for piano and orchestra taken from J. S Bach - the purpose of which escapes me. The recording quality of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Stephen Bell is very good; if musical flummery appeals to you, this CD can be purchased with confidence (Dutton Epoch CDLX7175, 1 hour 6 minutes).

NAXOS 8.570793