Reviewed by Johan Palme on 6th December, 2017
Creating Christmas music will almost universally mean an artist has to go outside their comfort zone. Very few artists create only Christmas music, and how they respond when faced with having to be all festive and jolly will tell you surprisingly much about them as a person. Frank Sinatra, and uncomfortably many with him, turn out to be careless and unable to make themselves believe. Others, like Phil Spector, pour their heart and soul into the unfamiliar material, and create masterpieces.
And yet others flip out entirely.
Andre Kostelanetz made a name for himself breaking the rules of how classical music is recorded. Completely eschewing any sense of naturalism, and using lots of microphones, unique-sounding instruments and the whole stereo space, he’d make hyperreal, glossy recordings, and got labelled “easy listening” for his troubles. (Interestingly, he’d do it while mostly recording essentially the same pieces and using orchestras as the prestigious labels. Even there, I’m not sure it really is all that easy.)
And then, on his Christmas record, where he didn’t know his material as well, he takes it even further. With just the slightest turn of the screw, it turns out, the listening is not easy at all. It’s almost unsettlingly weird, while at the same time gigglingly exhilarating. Andre Kostelanetz is like a child at, well, Christmas, taking the opportunity to experiment with his formula with half-digested, untested influences from Esquivel and other space age music. He uses unfamiliar instruments that barely sound like themselves (that harpsichord!), peppers familiar songs with fugues, canons and strange arrangement ideas, adds whistling, sound effects, weird emphases and all the recording bells and whistles he can muster. Somehow, it all comes together, and he genuinely feels both in his element and outside every comfort zone. And, honestly, it’s probably the greatest record Andre Kostelanetz ever made.