CD: Alexander Armstrong - In a Winter Light Mr Pimms O'Clock invites us in for some festive chee
Alexander Armstrong is one of TV's great Renaissance men. Not only is he the genial host of Pointless, he's also an actor, comedian, and, of course, the voice of Danger Mouse. But Armstrong's first love is music. Singing earned him a scholarship to Cambridge, and, in recent years, he's crooned his way through two successful albums. It was surely just a matter of time before he set his sights on Christmas.
In a Winter Light sees Armstrong trying his hand at a range of festive styles, from carols to easy-listening. Unfortunately, Armstrong's baritone is not suited to everything. Take "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes. The original was an ethereal piece of folk-rock. This choral version is so mannered it's almost like an Armstrong and Miller comedy sketch. Similarly "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" feels excessively posh - nothing like the Andy Williams vibe he seems to be going for.
Things improve a little with Armstrong's own compositions. "I Still Believe in Christmas", all light jazz chords and fuzzy lyrics, works well with Xander's plummy croon. Better still is "The Glorious Morrow" which showcases Armstrong's classical training. Featuring the Choir of New College, Oxford, it's an enjoyable pastiche of early 20th-twentieth century choral music.
Which brings us to the album's real forte - the carols. Unsurprisingly for an ex-chorister, Armstrong's tone and phrasing are a thing of loveliness, and not just in a classical-music-for-your-gran kind of way. Songs like "O Holy Night" and "In The Bleak Midwinter" have genuine ecclesiastical beauty. The vocals on Benjamin Britten's "There is no Rose" are even richer and more expressive. Indeed, the classical songs on this record are so vastly superior to the other styles that you can't help feeling that the album cover is a big con. Armstrong's Christmas isn't really all about shiny baubles and cheesy grins. At its heart, it's a pleasantly traditional affair.