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Christmas is almost upon us and so I thought I would review a seasonal offering from Silverline entitled Noël by André Gagnon. This title was performed by André Gagnon with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Mario Klemens. If you recognise the conductor then it might be because he was involved with a few of the tracks from the stunning Andrea Bocelli album, Cieli di Toscana. Recorded in Prague in September 1992, this album is a classical piece and the first time I have been able to review music from this genre. I was hoping for the world when I received it as this surely should shine and push the format to new levels of festive audio excellence, so read on to find my thoughts on this album.

The Album
Lets just get this straight - this is a classical music DVD-Audio. This is not a Christmas carol sing-a-long disc. All of you expecting some form of karaoke Christmas extravaganza may kindly leave. The rest of you, here we go.

The Canadian pianist’s first DVD-Audio disc contains twelve tracks, some familiar and some not so and while they are a Christmas theme since there are no vocals, some might chose to listen to this all year round. Gagnon’s take on some of what I would have said were well known tracks, are not always as obvious as you might think. Tracks like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Christmas Song are instantly recognisable while the ever popular Little Town of Bethlehem is to my ears, not recognisable as the carol I am familiar with. I am not saying it is a totally different piece of music, but after the first few bars I didn’t recognise it. I would say this does not really matter as the music is wonderful.

Could this be the audio fidelity we have been waiting for? It is a reasonably recent recording and a good one at that, so is this the best DVD-Audio disc I have listened to so far? Well, it’s a mixed bag actually. The melodic piano floats in and out with the rest of the orchestra present but at an ever so slightly lower volume to give Gagnon’s piano precedence in the audio field. The surround speakers are not used brilliantly. Instead of creating the impression that the listening position is sitting in the middle of the orchestra, it is as presented as you might listen to it if you were present for the original recording. By this I mean that the main sound comes from the three front speakers with the rear two used chiefly in an echo capacity. They appear to be more to back up the front speakers rather than provide their own sounds. This provides a much more realistic view of the sound as it would have been heard in Dvoøák Hall (Prague) and so cannot be chastised for this implementation. There is little to no background or white noise present (as there shouldn’t be) which is particularly useful on this disc as at times the orchestral harmonies and velvet tones of the piano fade to nothingness only to come back with vigour and energy.

Obviously a French/Canadian disc, this title has both English and French on the inlay detailing the album credits. What was strange though was the mix of English and French in the track listing. My incredible grasp of the French language meant that I did not realise that Sainte Nuit is actually Silent Night so it seems odd that the track listing is a mixed set of languages rather than a separate version for both.  

Unfortunately, not much to offer here I am afraid. A two page biography of André Gagnon is the only related extra on the disc. A brief read which will give you a small idea of how popular the artist is in his native Canada. Again, as with other Silverline titles, the other extras feature as follows: an overview of DVD-Audio and the speaker set up material which is there to help listener’s to set up their sound system correctly to enhance the listening experience. I do like this and think it should be supplied on all DVDs so that members of the public which purchase 5.1 surround sound systems can have an automated hand in getting it set up correctly. Also included is a list of album credits, which is a re-print of the discs inlay booklet.

A Christmas disc with a twist then. While not screaming Christmas carols at its audience, it is not quite un-Christmassy enough for me to listen to all year round. The sound is above average and starting to show the depth that DVD-Audio can achieve while the music is beautiful and festive. With not long until Christmas, I would recommend picking this title up, and sitting in front of an open fire, sipping port while roasting horse chestnuts and thinking about what you are getting for Christmas.