Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a Christmas album, and if you are looking for an alternative to the long-standing favourites of Bing Crosby, Slade, Wizard… then Christmas Words For You may be ideal.
The album brings together best-loved old and new Christmas-themed poems, written by household names and literary greats including Anne Bronte, William Wordsworth, William Blake, John Betjeman and William Shakespeare, which are performed by the cream of British acting talent and set to arrangements of popular carols.
The actors who take turns reciting the poetry are neatly split into two females (Joanna Lumley and Hermione Norris) and two males (Stephen Tompkinson and Jim Broadbent).
It’s Joanna Lumley who starts the album, and if anyone ever needed reminding that the dazzlingly beautiful Lumley possesses one of the most mellifluous voices imaginable, then her rendition of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Three Kings, set, naturally enough, to We Three Kings should more than do the trick. We could listen to Lumley all day, and her recitals are wonderful.
The poetry is very much the selling point, with the musical arrangements, the melody generally carried by piano though sometimes by guitar, there to lend atmosphere to the words. The actors do a fine job of tailoring the rhythms of the verses to the music, and the overall effect is seamless. Not all of it is religious. Though it starts with the biblical account of the story of Christmas, there are themes from the older tales of the winter solstice too, from Father Christmas to foolish fir trees.
Everyone will have their favourites. A long-standing family tradition of reading A Visit From St Nicholas (‘Twas the night before Christmas…) by Clement Clarke Moore every Christmas Eve means that Jim Broadbent’s reading of it, set to a not-too-frantic Jingle Bells, radiates warm glows of nostalgia like chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Some of the pieces (notably Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam read by Stephen Tompkinson, and In The Bleak Midwinter read by Hermione Norris) are sombre, and reflective of the human condition. Others, such as Santa’s New Idea and The Foolish Fir-Tree (both Lumley) are lighter-hearted fantasies. The neat balance between the two, and the running themes of hope and renewal, maintain a Christmassy feel throughout.
It’s harder to think of two more affable voices than Stephen Tompkinson and Jim Broadbent, nor two more refined ones than Hermione Norris and Joanna Lumley. They all read poetry beautifully, and whether you sit and lose yourself to the sound of this album through headphones, or have it on in the background as you tuck into the turkey or goose, Christmas Words For You is guaranteed to get you in the festive spirit and bring forth seasonal cheer.