It seems slightly strange to be reviewing a CD of Christmas Carols
at the beginning of spring. However it does make one more objective
than during the seasonal period when one is inundated with such
Being a person who
does not really appreciate religious music - least of all Christmas
carols - I tried nevertheless to be totally fair in my appreciation
of Angelika Kirchschlager’s recital. Kirchschlager is a very
talented Austrian mezzo-soprano. Hers is a lovely and at times
sexy voice, although, she occasionally lacks dramatic intensity
and emotional insight. This is arguably more of a problem in
a recital of arias or Lieder, however it does at times
make the rendition of some of these carols a little dry and
The most interesting
offer is, to my mind, the set of Christmas Carols, Op. 8 by
German composer Peter Cornelius as these are lesser known but
enjoyable pieces. Unfortunately they are not as appealing melodically
as most traditional carols. Nevertheless, this is a worthy attempt
at placing something a little different in the middle of a selection
of otherwise popular pieces commonly found in anthologies of
Christmas music. Pianist Helmut Deutsch sympathetically accompanies
in the Cornelius pieces as well as in Humperdinck’s two items.
Kirchschlager’s interpretation of the Cornelius and Humperdinck
is sensitive and precise. She knows exactly where and how to
place her voice in relation to the piano, clearly demonstrating
her earlier training as a pianist. However, I could not help
but feel that if she were able to express a little more dramatic
sentiment the carols would have become a touch more attractive.
dich, Zion from his Weihnachtsoratorium is excellently
executed, though perhaps because of the traditionally popular
tone of the carols, the piece gives the impression of being
out of place. Kirchschlager’s performance, though solid, fails
The mezzo’s best
performance in this recital is undoubtedly of Franz Xaver Gruber’s
Stille Nacht. This she cleverly chose to sing accompanied
only by two guitars, as originally intended by the composer.
Her rendition is not only beautiful but also heartfelt. The
guitars perfectly cushion her voice and the result is brilliant,
giving a touch of originality and freshness to a lovely piece
that is sung a little too often. Intelligently, Kirchschlager
also chose to sing it in the original German. The words melt
perfectly with the music and the feelings of peace, quiet and
tenderness are therefore much more effective.
The remaining carols
are mostly well known traditional ones. Kirchschlager sings
the versions arranged by distinguished pianist John Lenehan.
These are insightful and delicate and the singer is suitably
and effectively accompanied and conducted in a sensitive manner.
One cannot say that Kirchschlager sings badly because she does
not. Technically she is very good but the fact that she does
not inject any emotion into the melodies, makes these carols
sound tiresome and uninteresting though pleasant enough. Particularly
weak is the rendition of Adam’s O Holy Night where the
voice is slightly thin at the highest register. She hits the
high notes without strain but cannot sustain them for long.
They quickly fade thus making the singing less vivid and joyful.
Having said all that,
this CD is by no means poor. The pieces are popular and pleasantly
sung; the orchestra, piano and guitar accompaniments are excellent.
One can tell that a good deal of care was put into the selection
and recording of the carols, always with a genuine attempt at
being faithful to the composers’ original ideas. As with most
recitals of this kind, it is good to have it on the shelf and
use it as background music during the Christmas celebrations.
That said, I could not help but think that a talent such as Ms.
Kirchschlager’s could have done considerably better.