Pasa Tem­pos Ju­dith Owen & Harry Shearer’s Christ­mas With­out Tears; Com­plete Vari­a­tions on a Waltz by Di­a­belli by 51 Com­posers

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VAR­I­OUS ARTISTS Ju­dith Owen & Harry Shearer’s Christ­mas With­out Tears (Twanky Records) Hu­morist-satirist Harry Shearer, This Is Spinal Tap’s heavy-metal bassist Derek Smalls and the voice of The Simp­sons’ Mr. Burns, Smithers, and Ned Flan­ders, and his singer-song­writ­ing spouse, Ju­dith Owen, have in the last 10 years cel­e­brated with “Christ­mas With­out Tears” gath­er­ings, first held as house par­ties and then mov­ing to clubs and con­cert stages. The re­sult­ing EP is a mostly ir­rev­er­ent take on the hol­i­day and its mu­sic. At first lis­ten, it’s a pretty hol­i­day record­ing, be­gin­ning in­no­cently enough with Owen’s “The Best Things,” a sprightly tune with a wish list in which the giver is the most de­sired gift. Owen’s “(I’ll Sing) Silent Night For You” is a se­ri­ous hol­i­day love song and a show­case for her snug­gle-up voice. Then the in­no­cence dis­solves. “Too Many Notes” is a hi­lar­i­ous spoof of the over-the-top singing so com­mon on adult con­tem­po­rary-smooth jazz bal­lads. Amy En­gel­hardt, in a jump rhythm, takes the Vir­gin’s role in ask­ing “How Did This Thing Get In Me?” Fred Wil­lard’s won­der­fully con­fus­ing ac­count of the Christ­mas story in­volves Sleep­ing Beauty, Hanukkah, and Ground­hog Day with, for good mea­sure, a cameo from Franklin D. Roo­sevelt. Cather­ine O’Hara’s “What Do You Get the Man Who Has Noth­ing?” skews lib­eral com­pas­sion, re­li­gious sal­va­tion, greed and nar­cis­sism, all at once. Not for the de­vout. — Bill Kohlhaase

PIER PAOLO VIN­CENZI Com­plete Vari­a­tions on a Waltz by Di­a­belli by 51 Com­posers (Bril­liant Clas­sics) In 1819, the Vi­en­nese com­poser and pub­lisher An­ton Di­a­belli in­vited the most prom­i­nent com­posers of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian realms to pen one vari­a­tion each on an unas­sum­ing waltz tune he had writ­ten. Beethoven de­clined the in­vi­ta­tion for the nonce but promised to at­tend to it later. He did, and by 1823 he com­pleted his Fal­staffian 33 Vari­a­tions on a Waltz of An­ton Di­a­belli, one of the crown­ing glo­ries of pi­ano lit­er­a­ture. Ital­ian pi­anist Pier Paolo Vin­cenzi of­fers an in­sight­ful, clearly voiced in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Beethoven’s set, but the more un­ac­cus­tomed de­light of this release comes with its sec­ond CD, where he plays all of the non-Beethoven vari­a­tions that trick­led in to Di­a­belli from 51 other com­posers over five years. Some of them are still re­mem­bered to­day, such as Hum­mel, Schu­bert (who con­trib­uted two min­utes of melan­choly), and Czerny (who pro­vided a rol­lick­ing vari­a­tion plus a sep­a­rate coda). We even get the first pub­lished piece — 36 sec­onds long — by Franz Liszt, who at the age of eleven was al­ready rip­ping up and down the key­board with omi­nous di­min­ished-sev­enth arpeg­gios. Most of the con­trib­u­tors are pro­foundly ob­scure, but all of them were ac­com­plished; a few of them, in­clud­ing Beethoven’s pupil the Arch­duke Ru­dolph, even of­fered brainy fu­gal vari­a­tions. This fas­ci­nat­ing, en­ter­tain­ing col­lec­tion would make a fine hol­i­day gift for the Beethoven afi­cionado on your list. — James M. Keller

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