Friday, December 15

Ten Great Christmas Cd's

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 For those of you who are totally over Mariah Carey screaming her guts out or Chrissy Hynde limping through “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or other pop artists trying to resurrect classic Christmas carols with their mediocre voices and style, I have a collection of really classy and enriching CD’s, many of which debuted as albums long before CD technology was around, and some of which feature much older pieces. Going back to the ancient at this time of year somehow is a wonderful escape yet connects us with humanity throughout the ages. Here’s my short list:

  • Noel”, The Priests. No this is not another Judas Priest heavy metal band; these guys are the real deal – actual parish priests from Northern Ireland with gorgeous voices. Remember the Three Tenors? Then came the Irish Tenors? We’ve got another fabulous trio brand. You might think their music would be all Catholic repertoire like  “Ave Maria” and elements of the Mass but this CD is filled with traditional carols with choir and orchestral arrangements. It’s absolutely beautiful, rich and reverent.  Sony 2010.

  • Tchaikovsky Nutcracker, Favorite Excerpts from the Original Soundtrack Recording (from the original motion picture soundtrack, Piotr Tchaikovsky. This double CD has all the favs, recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. Excellent for children and tree-trimming background music.  Telarc 1988.
  • Noel”, Josh Groban. Thankfully not your typical “American Idol” voice, Josh Groban’s vocals are clear and lush and he really uses his instrument with respect. The CD is full of familiar standards, both sacred and secular, and features guest artist in several duets and even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.   EMI 2007

  • Messiah, George Fridric Handel, London Symphony. Featuring the late epic Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, this wonderful double CD has the entire oratorio, or you can just listen to the more popular Christmas portion. Also included are a few arias from Handel’s “Judas Maccabeus” and “Samson”.     Decca 1961
  • Celtic Christmas Spirit, Caroline Peyton. This has to be one of my all-time favorites, not only for Christmas time but for the entire winter season. Somehow the ethereal sounds of Celtic music totally fit the bleakness of winter; one can almost imagine being in England or Ireland: the rugged landscape of steep cliffs, the windswept moors, stone castles, grey skies. This CD includes wonderful pieces like “Coventry Carol” and “Sussex Carol”, some even sung in Gaelic.  Green Hill Productions 1998.
  • A Christmas Celebration: A Collection of Classical Brass, String and Choral Favorites, Volumes I and II (two separate CD’s). This is definitely a more obscure CD but one of the best-kept secrets. It’s simply a collection of recordings from various ensembles including the Harvard Men’s Glee Club, performing mostly very old Christmas pieces. While there are a few recent pieces (by “recent”, I mean Negro spirituals and 19th century carols like “Deck the Halls”), most tracks celebrate ancient, sacred repertoire: Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque pieces that hail from Europe like “Greensleeves”, Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “O Magnum Mysterium”. Volume I (the red cover) is the superior CD.  Music Masters Classics 1993.
  • A Christmas Album”, Amy Grant. Do not be confused with her three other, more recent Christmas CDs – this was the first. It has its own charm with more original content than the newer ones. Her voice here is smooth and low and rich. Overstock.com sells this for pennies. Telarc 1983.

  • O Holy Night”, Luciano Pavarotti with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Wandsworth Boys Choir. Move over Mariah Carey. The eternal tenor from northern Italy who made singing look effortless and often performed dramatically holding a white handkerchief, delights in this recording. Many of his pieces are in the original languages of Latin, Spanish, Italian, and French. Pavarotti, who performed at the 1990 World Cup, sang until he was 70, the year before he died.  Decca 1976.

  • Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album” Vintage Tony Bennett with his swing, big band style. His version of “Chestnuts”, “Winder Wonderland” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” takes the listener back to childhood innocence where troubles fade away. Makes you happy just listening to it.  Sony 1994.

  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, Burl Ives. From the 1964 children’s movie, now a television and video Christmas classic. Late American folk singer Burl Ives, with his trademark beard (even on the cartoon snowman), has such a cheery sound with his “Silver and Gold” and “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” favorites. This is mainly a kiddie pleaser…but makes for great jokes and imitations when kids get to be teenagers!  MCA 1969.

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