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Fry: Santa Claus Symphony / Royal Scottish National Orchestra

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Audio CD, February 20, 2001
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Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song Title Time Price
listen  1. Santa Claus, Christmas Symphony26:20$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  2. Macbeth Overture: Overture to Macbeth10:37$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  3. Niagara Symphony13:45$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  4. The Breaking Heart10:47$0.89  Buy MP3 

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Fry: Santa Claus Symphony / Royal Scottish National Orchestra + Carol Symphony
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (February 20, 2001)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos American Classics
  • Run Time: 62 minutes
  • ASIN: B0000509J9
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,588 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Editorial Reviews

Product Description


The name of William Henry Fry (1813-64) appears as a a brief footnote in the annals of American music – the first native-born American to write for large symphonic forces, the first to write a grand opera (Leonora, 1845, reportedly a flabby imitation of Bellini), the first American music critic for a major newspaper, and the first (vociferous) champion of native American music. Surely such a figure should at the very least command some interest. This release is the first opportunity anyone has ever had of hearing his music on disc, ipso facto a valuable exercise for which Naxos should be heartily congratulated. But the music and the playing make it much more than a mere archaeological dig. Fry emerges as kind of symphonic Gottschalk, with little reliance on counterpoint or interest in formal Classical structures, but with a colourful awareness of the orchestra and its dramatic potential. The results may not be profound or visionary, but they are expertly and imaginatively scored, endearing, and even moving at times. The Santa Claus Symphony (more accurately, an orchestral fantasy), lasting over 26 minutes, is an unbroken sequence of musical tableaux. It depicts the announcement of the Saviour's birth, a Christmas Eve party, the sleep that follows (with Rock-a-bye-baby on the soprano saxophone – the first use of the instrument in a symphonic setting), a snow storm with a rare solo for the double-bass and some demanding passages for the strings and woodwind, the joyful arrival of Santa, and then the familiar strains of Adeste fideles, the tune which concludes the work in a hymn of praise.The Macbeth Overture (1864) is a surprisingly good-natured affair, its attractive principal theme dangerously close to a Moody & Sankey hymn tune. There is little hint of the supernatural, of Shakespeare's evil protagonists or the play's dark overtones. Niagara, composed in 1854 for one of P. T. Barnum's Monster Concerts, provides the most striking musical mimicry of a colossal waterfall I have ever heard, realized by 11 thunderous timpani and much energetic scale passagework from the strings and woodwind sections – an engaging piece of extravagant kitsch. The Breaking Heart is the orchestral equivalent of Gottschalk's The Last Hope, a sentimental melodrama with some lovely writing for the solo flute. Here, as elsewhere, Tony Rowe is in firm control of proceedings, while allowing the expressive RSNO to play the music for all it is worth, giving every impression of having a thoroughly good time. Some will doubtless dismiss Fry as too jejune and frivolous for words. I can only say that I enjoyed it all hugely – and if the disc doesn't provoke concert performances of the Santa Claus and Niagara Symphonies during this year's seasonal festivities, then Father Christmas simply doesn't exist. Jeremy Nicholas -- From International Record Review - subscribe now

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 22, 2001
Format: Audio CD
This CD has rightly received lots of critical attention and just about as much critical praise. And who is William Henry Fry? A contemporary of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, he was the first native-born American to write music for large orchestra. In his own day he was probably most esteemed as a music critic for major papers and as an opera composer, though his work is derivative. (Belini is said to have been his primary inspiration.) As an orchestral composer, he was known through tours of the Julien Orchestra, which gave the Santa Claus Symphony and The Breaking Heart hearings before appreciative audiences. It's not hard to understand why: The Breaking Heart is just what a 19th-century audience from the swites wanted to hear. It is an extended salon piece that happens to be scored for full symphony orchestra, and though it has all the saccharine and sentimental qualities of its genre, it is beautifully scored and shows genuine craftmanship.

This is true as well of the dramatic Macbeth Overture, written in the last year of Fry's life and apparently never performed. While it, too, has sentimental touches supplied through what sounds like ballet music from one of Belini's operas, it also has some impressive writing for winds, especially the trombones, which give it an especially demonic quality.

The Niagra Symphony, also probably unheard in Fry's day, makes a glorious noise with its battery of eleven timpani and cascading strings and winds, but it is a one-trick pony compared with the other music on this disk, most notably the Santa Claus Symphony, whose program, though naive, provides some truly memorable music.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lee Hartsfeld on January 5, 2002
Format: Audio CD
William Henry Fry's "Santa Claus Symphony" is actually one movement made up of several mini-movements, or whatever. In the absence of a program, your ears will be confused by the start/stop nature of the "symphony." Luckily, the notes tell us most, or much, of the story that is illustrated by the music--a snowstorm, a party, Santa's arrival, etc. All the listener has to do is know where he or she is. I, myself, started reading the notes somewhat past the double bass solo, so I was as lost as the guy in the snowstorm.
The "Niagara Symphony" needs no program--and what would that be, anyway? ("Water falls. Water continues to fall. Etc.") This music is static in form and therefore eminently easy to follow. It is also superbly majestic and evocative. Even without knowing the title in advance, the listener will guess he is hearing something epic being described. ("Water. I see water. Lots of it.") Orchestrationally, this piece is the 19th century's answer to Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite."
But the killer track is the "Macbeth" overture, a superbly dramatic work almost in a league with Tchaikovsky. And "The Aching Heart" is a beautifully-written light piece not nearly as maudlin as its title. It is deceptively simple in the best Viennese tradition.
Listeners as impressed as I am by this composer might want to check out the Fry piano work on "The Wind Demon and other 19th Century Piano Music" CD (on the New World label).
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By NotATameLion on March 7, 2002
Format: Audio CD
This disc is not what I thought it would be...and I am glad for it! Release from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is composed of four delightful orchestral tone poems. Each is fun in its own way.
Yet the Santa Claus Symphony was not what I was thinking it would be. It is amazing how much my expectation of music about Santa has been shaped by twentieth/twenty-first century commercialism. This music was a great antidote to my biases. I enjoy its inventiveness and its palpably felt joy. The carol motif at the end is especially wonderful.
The best of the other three pieces is the Macbeth overture. It is really a great piece that probably deserves a broader audience. Hopefully this disc will win it one.
If you want some great, original music, you could do worse than this disc (especially at Naxos prices). I recommend it wholeheartedly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By G.D. TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 2, 2009
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
William Henry Fry (1813-64) was a strikingly original figure; he was the first American-born composer to write for large orchestral forces (among a host of other things), and despite incorporating many elements of contemporary European music (Berlioz seems like the most obvious influence), his musical voice is thoroughly original. In the Santa Claus Symphony - a symphonic poem, really, where Santa Claus fortunately makes only a brief appearance - he incorporates several popular songs of the period, and the work is evocatively pictorial and interestingly scored (among other things with the use of a soprano saxophone, surely not a common instrumental touch in 1853). That said, the structure is very loose and the work is in the end hardly more than the sum of its often very interesting parts.

The Niagara Symphony (another symphonic poem, and a short one at that) is another graphic, original and well scored work, but one which is rather short on actual content. The Macbeth overture from 1864 is more conventional but well constructed and including some exciting material, especially again in terms of some very original orchestral textures. The Breaking Heart is overall less worthwhile.

Performances are uniformly excellent, and the players are clearly excited by this visceral if ultimately hollow music. Sound quality is fortunately superb as well. All in all, this is an intermittingly exciting and appealing issue - a must to those interesting in the development of symphonic music in the U.S., but definitely worthwhile to others as well; just don't expect any unqualified masterpieces.
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