GREENMATTHEWS – A Christmas Carol: A Folk Opera (Blast Records BFTP011)

A Christmas CarolThe Dickens novella A Christmas Carol has become almost integral to the Yuletide celebrations since its publication in 1843, helped and sometimes hampered by innumerable movies, some better than others. But at a time when the world seems to be governed by Scrooges, Gradgrinds and other self-servers who can’t even claim honest greed, perhaps we could do with revisiting the story of the melting of one of the stoniest of hearts. So GreenMatthews have added A Christmas Carol – A Folk Opera to their impressive catalogue of Christmas-related CDs. Besides Chris Green (voice, guitar, mandocello, piano, accordion, bass guitar and drums) and Sophie Matthews (voice, flute, English border bagpipes), the CD features special guest Jude Rees of Pilgrims Way (voice, oboe, melodeon).

Perhaps the first thing to say is that while this set has been toured in the last couple of months in combination with a set of seasonal songs and carols, it isn’t an opera as non-folkies might understand the term. Rather, the narrative is conveyed on the CD (as on the concert tour, I believe) through a set of 20 tracks with Chris Green’s lyrics set to traditional tunes, with no spoken narrative or continuo.

The first track, ‘Introducing Scrooge’, is a lengthy scene-setting track. The other tracks describe specific events and scenes from the novella (‘The Ghost Of Christmas Past’, ‘Fezziwig’s Ball’, ‘A Funeral’, and so on). ‘The Conclusion’, like the rest of the narrative, follows Dickens’s story faithfully, as I remember it. No surprises there, then, but the story as Dickens wrote it is more than strong enough to survive this condensed narrative. In fact, Chris Green has done an excellent job of conveying the essential plot points in this abridged form.

The music, as you’d expect, is excellent, with good singing and outstanding instrumental work. The choice of traditional melodies is fairly restricted, especially considering the repetitive use of warhorses such as ‘Dick Darby’ ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ and ‘Villikins’, but the arrangements cleverly ring the changes with variations in instrumentation and form, with major-key melodies suddenly turning up as a minor-key variation and vice versa. Perhaps the CD could have benefited from the interpolation of one or two of those other seasonal songs here and there, or a few more tunes like those that find their way into ‘Fezziwig’s Ball’ (my favourite track).

Still, it’s all great fun, and I may well investigate one or two of their other Christmas-related CDs, in defiance of my inner Scrooge. By the time you read this, it looks as if the ‘Christmas Carol’ tour will be more or less finished, but you may well find it worthwhile to check out their web site to what other tours are in prospect, as well as their catalogue of CDs.

David Harley

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Artist’s website: www.greenmatthews.co.uk/