Wednesday, December 15, 2021

A Deep Dive into Firestone Christmas, Vol. 2

Let's discuss Christmas albums! I will start our discussion off with Vol 2 in the iconic Firestone series.

I listened to it by mistake while I was putting the lights on my Christmas tree!

The mistake was that it was in the wrong jacket. I thought I was listening to Vol. 4 ...

... but it ended up I was listening to Vol. 2.

When it ended I was thinking that's funny, I do not remember hearing Julie Andrews. But my Christmas tree lights were giving me grief so I forgot about it. Until just now. Now I have it all figured out.

So. All of us fans of Christmas music, we can all agree that the Firestone albums are without parallel. They featured these wonderful arrangements. They starred opera singers. Julie Andrews was a regular, and so was the great Jack Jones. They also had a certain sheen about them, these albums. They were bright and fun but at the same time they were reverent.

The Firestone album I remember most vividly from being a kid was the one featuring Julie Andrews and Jack Jones and these Richard Strauss-like arrangements by Andre Previn. This one that I listened to tonight, I do not remember. We must not have had it. 

But I had a great time with it!

One highlight was Brian Sullivan singing "Deck the Halls." Brian Sullivan has kind of fallen off the merry-go-round of history, but he was a great tenor in his day. An Irish Wagnerian tenor, you do not get better than that. The arrangement is creative and Sullivan just throws himself into it. Bravo to him. Tenors have to take it to the wall or it is no fun. 

He also sings a "We Three Kings" that is to be reckoned with. And "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." "To save us all from Satan's power when we had gone astray!" And "O tidings of comfort and joy!" Even the chorus is no match for him. Bravo, maestro!

"Adeste Fideles" ends with an orchestral flourish that made me think of Respighi's "The Pines of Rome."

The "Hallelujah Chorus" sounds a little off -- I think it is top-heavy, too many women and not enough men. That is just my guess. But still, all good. The performance of "Jingle Bells" cracked me up. The arrangement is so saucy, and you hear a chorus of laughing you can only assume is the Columbus Boys Choir. It really is a lot of fun.

The great mezzo soprano Rise Stevens sings a haunting "O Come O Come Emmanuel." This song is beautiful for a mezzo. It needs that kind of mood. She sings "Away in a Manger" too, accompanied by a wordless choir. Bring on those wordless choirs! And she joins Brian Sullivan in "Angels We Have Heard on High." Is this heaven?

Beautiful Rise Stevens -- 

-- her real name was Rise Gus Steenberg -- sang with the Metropolitan Opera for about 20 years beginning in 1938. She was 99 when she died, in 2013. How did she get a middle name like Gus? We will have to explore this question at some later date.

The opera singers and the chorus join in an overblown "Partridge in a Pear Tree." I do not mean to sound critical when calling it overblown. That song is allowed to be overblown. It's fun at the end when the orchestra suggests the lords a-leaping, the ladies dancing, and the drummers drumming.

There is an atmospheric "Carol of the Bells" that I thought was excellent. It starts and ends with churchbells and the bells chime along with the chorus. It is not overdone, just very pretty. Church bells actually have a supernatural power. They keep away evil. Knowing that adds to the my feeling for this song and this particular recording of it.

I mentioned that I did not grow up with this album. I did not remember it. However listening to it I found myself homesick for something I never knew. That era, when Christmas albums would feature Metropolitan Opera stars. When you heard those beautiful old religious carols from around the world. Before you went into a store, as I went into Big Lots a couple of weeks ago, and heard all these tuneless pop Christmas tunes you do not recognize or like.

It is great that these albums are on YouTube and we can listen to them there. But still. I think it is time tire stores began doing this kind of thing again, you know? We should go into Firestone and Goodyear and ask them to begin again to issue Christmas albums.

We should demand it!