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CHRISTMAS 2021: Some Seasonal Offerings
By Brian Wilson

With most people having extra leisure time at Christmas, I’ve also recommended ‘listening around’ my Christmas recommendations with more music by the same composers, especially those from what we loosely call the baroque period. I’ve also included reminders of several recordings which we reviewed or missed reviewing several years ago.

Most of these recordings are available on CD from Presto and Amazon in the UK and from ArkivMusic in the USA. The majority can be downloaded in mp3 and lossless sound from Presto (sometimes in 24-bit quality) and in mp3 only from Amazon UK. Hyperion’s own recordings and those from Gimell, Signum, LSO Live, Collegium, Hallé, King’s College Cambridge, Mariinksy, 1equalmusic, National Symphony Orchestra, Colin Currie and SDG can be downloaded in mp3 and lossless (24-bit where available) from hyperion-records.co.uk, my recommended source for all these labels. My source for BIS and Harmonia Mundi downloads in up to 24-bit is eclassical.com; the most recent BIS recordings can be obtained in surround sound, too. Chandos offer their own and other recordings in mp3 and lossless, with the latest releases in 24-bit and sometimes in surround sound, from chandos.net. Mp3 streaming is available from the Naxos Music Library and up to 24-bit (where available) from Qobuz. Most downloads and streamed versions come with a digital booklet, but not always – something which needs urgently to be remedied. All downloads from Hyperion come with the pdf booklet.

Index:

CANTELOUBE Chants d'Auvergne_BIS
CHARPENTIER, Marc Antoine Midnight Mass, etc. (Mallon)_Naxos; (Christie)_Erato
- Te Deum, Missa Assumpta est Maria, etc_Harmonia Mundi
- Te Deum, Dixit Dominus, etc._Glossa
GIBBONS, TOMKINS, WEELKES See, see the Word is Incarnate_Resonus
GLAZUNOV The Seasons_Decca_Chandos
GRAUPNER Christmas and Epiphany Cantatas_CPO
POULENC Christmas Motets_Naxos (in The Mystery of Christmas)
PRÆTORIUS, Michael Christmas Music_Hyperion Helios
- Christmas Music_Accentus
- Lutheran Christmas Mass_DG Archiv
PRÆTORIUS, Jakob Organ Works (with SCHILDT)_Ricercar
RHEINBERGER Der Stern von Bethlehem _Ars Produktion; Carus
SCHILDT Organ Works – see Jakob PRÆTORIUS
TELEMANN Christmas Music_CPO
- Easter Cantatas_CPO
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS An Oxford Christmas_Albion (and earlier VW Christmas music from this label)
VIVALDI Four Seasons_Signum
- Trio Sonatas, Op.1_Brilliant Classics
WETZ Weihnachtsoratorium _CPO
WOLFRUM Weihnachtsoratorium _Christophorus
ZEUTSCHNER Christmas Story and other music_CPO

100 Christmas Meditation _Capriccio
Carol of the Bells (The Sixteen)_Coro
Christmas Carols with the King’s Singers _Signum
Christmas in Berlin _DG
Christmas without Words _Orchid
Classical Hugs: Music of Comfort and Hop_ABC
Elizabethan Christmas
_Signum
Epiphany - Medieval Byzantine Chant_Cappella Romana
Femina Moderna_BIS
Hodie Christus natus est – a Medieval Christmas_Harmonia Mundi
In the bleak Midwinter_King's
Incarnation (McCreesh)_Signum
Licht der Welt: A Christmas Promenade (Christiane karg)_Harmonia Mundi
Little Christmas (Sankt Florian)_Ars Produktion
Mexican Christmas_Navona
Nativitas – Carols from Bohemia, Moravia, etc._Supraphon
A Sentimental Christmas (Nat King Cole)_Capitol
Singer Pur Advent _Capriccio
The Swingle Singers unwrapped _Signum

***


Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
An Oxford Christmas: Arrangements from The Oxford Book of Carols
Sussex Mummers’ Carol [4:55]
Hereford Carol [2:46]
A Virgin Most Pure [6:00]
Sussex Carol (Second Tune) [2:10]
Gloucestershire Wassail [1:40]
The Salutation Carol [2:53]
The Bellman’s Song (Third Tune) [3:00]
Job (Come All You Worthy Christian Men – Third Tune) [3:08]
This Endris Night [3:49]
Sussex Carol (First Tune) [1:43]
Coverdale’s Carol [2:35]
Song of the Crib [4:29]
Children’s Song of the Nativity [2:06]
If Ye Would Hear the Angels Sing [2:33]
Quem Pastores - Shepherds Left Their Flocks A-Straying [1:26]
The Bellman’s Song (Second Tune) [2:27]
Joseph and Mary [3:31]
Job (Come All You Worthy Christian Men – Fourth Tune) [2:39]
The Seven Virgins [4:21]
Psalm of Sion [2:59]
O My Dear Heart [3:53]
God Bless the Master of This House [3:09]
Joshua Ryan (organ)
Choir of the Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea/William Vann
rec. St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, October 22-23, 2020 and June 17, 2021
Texts included
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
ALBION ALBCD050 [68:12] See also review by John Quinn: ‘This is a richly enjoyable collection of VW’s carol arrangements, beautifully performed. It’s a worthy follow-up to A Vaughan Williams Christmas.’

By mid-Autumn, the usual batch of Christmas recordings was well underway, but this recording deserves the first place – not only because it was the first to be received, in late August. There’s more to it than that, however: this selection of music edited by Vaughan Williams for the Oxford Book of Carols (1928) offers largely unfamiliar settings, possibly up to half of them never before recorded. (Albion make no claim for that, and I can’t pretend to have checked.) VW’s original contributions, assisted by Martin Shaw in some cases, are supplemented by two carols from a later edition.
 
This successor to the 2016 A Vaughan Williams Christmas (ALBCD035 review) was recorded, like its predecessor, by the Choir of the Choir of the Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. It’s presented as an unashamedly choral rather than a congregational enterprise: it’s unlikely that any congregation could cope with such unfamiliar settings. The Sussex Carol (track 10) is one of the few familiar items, and even that would be beyond the average congregation in this arrangement.

As usual with Albion recordings, the quality of singing and recording are matched by that of the presentation, with notes by Jeremy Summerly and John Francis. It’s typical, too, of the care that has gone into the presentation that I received an email shortly after being sent the original material to apologise for three trivial errors or omissions in the booklet, all due to be corrected for the commercial release. (Whereas I frequently notice something that I got wrong only when it goes online.) This album is my recommendation for those seeking something different this year.

If you missed ALBCD035 and the earlier ALBCD013, On Christmas Day: Folk-songs and Folk-carols of Ralph Vaughan Williams, sung by Derek Welton (baritone) with Iain Burnside (piano), the latter of which we seem not to have reviewed, I recommend that you at least stream them, perhaps on Christmas Day itself. Having missed both when they were released, I grabbed them from my review access and can thoroughly recommend them. The six songs in the middle of the programme on ALBCD013 are not Christmas-related, but none the less enjoyable for that.

You might expect a label and ensemble called Cappella Romana to specialise in music for the Western Christian tradition, but it’s the music of the Rome of the east, Byzantion, that they present on Epiphany - CR408: medieval liturgical settings for 1 and 6 January, the feasts of the Circumcision/Baptism of Jesus and Epiphany respectively, the latter known as Theophany in the East and celebrated according to the Julian calendar, so several days later than in the Western church. There are several recordings of Roman chant for the Christmas season, but this makes a fascinating alternative.

Even if your medieval Greek is not very strong and you don’t know your Εíσοδικóν (Introit) from your Aπολυτíκιον (Dismissal), there’s all the help you need in the booklet. The performances are led by Greek psaltis Dr. Ioannis Arvanitis, acclaimed scholar and performer of medieval Byzantine chant.

A Medieval Christmas: Hodie Christus Natus Est
Hodie!
Hodie Christus natus est [1:05]
Uterus hodie Virginis floruit (anonymous Aquitania, 12th c.) [3:19]
Sponsus (excerpts from the Sponsus miracle play, Aquitania, c. 1050-1060)
Adest Sponsus [2:35]
Oiet virgines (Gabriel) [3:27]
Nos virgines (Song of the Foolish Virgins) [3:07]
Amen dico (Christ’s reply to the Foolish Virgins) [1:14]
Lux!
Verbum Patris humanatur, O! (Anonymous: Aquitania, 12th c.) [2:19]
Judea et Jerusalem [0:39]
Dominus veniet [1:01]
Lux refulget (anonymous Aquitania, 12th c.) [3:07]
Flur de Virginité
Clara sonent organa (anonymous Aquitania, 12th c.) [4:13]
Gedeonis area (anonymous France, 13th from a text by Philp the Chancelor) [1:43]
Flur de virginité, sur le chant d’Aélis (anonymous France, 13th c.) [3:23]
Veine pleine de duçur (anonymous England, 13th c.) [2:36]
Edi be thu hevene quene (anonymous England, 13th c.) [2:26]
Nolite Timere
Angelus ad Virginem (anonymous England, 13th c.) [1:31]
Dal ciel venne messo novello (anonymous Italy, 14th c.) [5:58]
Nolite timere [1:29]
English Dance (anonymous England, 13th c.) [2:14]
Quem vidistis Pastores? [0:45]
Sancta Mater graciae - Dou way, Robin (anonymous England, 14th c.) [1:48]
Campanis cum cymbalis/Honoremus Dominam (anonymous England, 14th c.) [1:02]
Benedicat Domino
Por nos Virgen madre (attributed to Alfonso X of Castille, el Sabio, 1221-1284) [2:46]
Gregis pastor (anonymous Aquitania, 12th c.) [4:16]
The Boston Camerata:
Anne Azéma (voice, hurdy-gurdy, bells, direction)
Camila Parias (voice)
Deborah Rentz-Moore (voice)
Christa Patton (harp, winds)
Shira Kammen (vielle, rebec, harp)
rec. July 2021, St Ignatius of Loyola Church, 28 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, Boston MA.
Texts and translations included.
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM905339 [58:24]

I’m pleased to see the Boston Camerata tackling this repertoire again. At first, I thought this might be a reissue of their A Boston Camerata Christmas, a three-hour recording directed by Joel Cohen and still well worth having (Warner 2564694150, download only, mid-price, no booklet). It is, in fact a new recording directed by Anne Azéma, solo or lead voice in most of the pieces. Only a very few pieces overlap with that older collection or another Boston Camerata recording entitled A Medieval Christmas (Nonesuch 0349710196, download only, no booklet).

The only very small matter which might put non-Francophone listeners off is the pronunciation of Latin with the front-mutated French ‘u’ sound, but that’s fair enough when much of the music comes from Aquitaine and other French-speaking areas, including the Norman-French English aristocracy.

An Elizabethan Christmas
William BYRD

Out of the orient crystal skies
From virgin’s womb this day did spring
Lullaby, my sweet little baby
An earthly tree
O God that guides the cheerful sun
Anthony HOLBORNE
Pavan
As it fell on a holie Eve
The cradle
Lullaby
The Queenes New Year’s Gift
Heigh ho holiday
Orlando GIBBONS
Fantazy No. 1 a 4 ‘for ye great dooble bass’
Fantazy No. 2 a 4 ‘for ye great dooble bass’
Martin PEERSON
Attendite
Thomas WEELKES
To shorten winter’s sadness
Sweet was the song
Helen Charlston (mezzo)
Fretwork
with Emma Walshe, Lucy Cox (soprano); Amy Lyddon (alto); Guy Cutting (tenor); Malachy Frame (baritone); Edmund Saddington (bass-baritone)
rec. St Mary Magdalen Church, Sherborne, Gloucestershire, UK, 15th – 17th May 2019 and 7th –8th October 2020
Texts included
Reviewed as downloaded with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
SIGNUM SIGCD680 [71:27]

In one important respect this is preferable to Red Byrd’s otherwise very enjoyable Elizabethan Christmas Anthems (Amon Ra CDSAR046); that recording is billed as ‘using pronunciation of the period’ which, as usual with such attempts, ends by sounding like Mummerset. If that was common Elizabethan pronunciation, the West Country accents of Ralegh and Drake would not have caused such amusement at court. We just don’t know how far the vowel shift had progressed by the late sixteenth century. In all other respects, that recording, with the Rose Consort of Viols, is very worthwhile, not least because the CD (but not the download) is at budget price but I’m very pleased that Helen Charlston and her colleagues make no such attempt on this attractive new Signum release.

Stony-hearted must you be if you don’t go all gooey at Byrd’s My sweet little baby (track 7).

See, See, the Word is Incarnate
Choral and Instrumental Music by Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625), Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656) and Thomas WEELKES (1576-1623)
James Grimwood (Senior Organ Scholar)
The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Newe Vialles
Orpheus Britannicus Vocal Consort
Andrew Arthur (director & solo organ)
rec. Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, 28–30 August 2019.
Henk Klop Chamber Organ. Tuning: a=466' (Sixth-Comma meantone)
Texts included
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
RESONUS RES10295 [70:51]

Though book-ended by music for Advent and Christmas, this collection casts its net wider than that, so, rather than saving it for this round-up, I reviewed it separately; this is a reminder of that review.

Nativitas
Christmas Carols from Bohemia, Moravia and around Europe
Dagmar Pecková (mezzo)
Gentlemen Singers
Musica Bohemica/Jaroslav Krček
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, 1-4 March 2018.
Reviewed as downloaded from press access (no booklet)
SUPRAPHON SU4244-2 [79:00]

It’s both the attraction of this recording and its Achilles heel that so much of the material is unfamiliar. The download and streamed versions come without a booklet, so the only information I have is taken from the sales sheet. You could, however, follow my advice regarding its successor in my 2020 round-up, sit back and enjoy without bothering about the words: much of the music is, in any case, instrumental, its rustic charm well captured by the performers – think of Prætorius’ Terpischore dances as a context for the baroque items (trs.15-23). Dagmar Pecková is a slightly squally mezzo, but it’s not a major problem.

There is no period richer in Christmas music than the North German baroque, and Michael PRÆTORIUS (1571/2-1621) was one of the main figures. It’s ten years since Johan van Veen reviewed an ‘intriguing and captivating’ recording of his music for Advent and Christmas from Westminster Cathedral Choir, the Parley of Instruments and David Hill, so it’s timely to remind readers of it (Hyperion Helios CDH55446). The CD is no longer at budget price, but it can be downloaded in lossless sound from hyperion-records.co.uk for £5.99. Like all Hyperion downloads, it comes with the booklet, containing texts, translations and notes.

Also available from Hyperion, an earlier (2003) recording of Christmas music from The Tallis Scholars: at £7.99 for the lossless download of the contents of a 2-CD set, it’s even better value. Christmas with The Tallis Scholars (CDGIM202) contains three Mass settings, by Clemens non Papa (Missa Pastores quem vidisitis) and Tallis (Puer natus est nobis) and the anonymous Missa in gallicantu, or Dawn Mass.

Best of all, however, is a 1993 DG Archiv recording directed by Paul McCreesh which flickers in and out of the catalogue. With music chiefly by Prætorius, it’s a reconstruction of a Lutheran Christmas Mass as it might have been celebrated around 1600. The Gabrieli Consort and Players are joined by the congregation of Roskilde Cathedral: CD on mid-price 4791757 or super-budget download (no booklet) on 4399312. For all my enjoyment of the other Prætorius recordings listed here, this is still my prime recommendation.

Don’t let the drab cover put your off a new release:

Michael PRÆTORIUS Jubilate Domino à 9 (1607)
Melchior VULPIUS (1570– 1615) Es ist ein Ros entsprungen Canon à 4
Michael PRÆTORIUS Nun komm der Heiden Heiland à 4 (1607)
Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her à 8 (1607)
Magnificat super Angelus ad pastores ait à 5 (1611)
Es ist ein Ros entsprungen à 4 (1609)
Quem pastores laudavere à 7 & 11 (1621)
Der Morgenstern ist aufgedrungen
Angelus ad pastores ait à 8 (1607)
Resonet in laudibus à 7 (1611)
Puer natus in Bethlehem à 3, 7 & 1 1 (1619)
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern à 10 (1619)
Deo patri sit gloria à 7 (1611)
(8th verse of Veni redemptor gentium)
Isabel Schicketanz (soprano), Jonathan Mayenschein (alto), Christopher Renz (tenor), Martin Schicketanz (bass)
Dresdner Kammerchor and instrumentalists/Hans-Christoph Rademann
Texts and translations included
rec. Stadtkirche Radeberg “Zum heiligen Namen Gottes”, July 2021
Reviewed as downloaded from 24/96 wav press preview.
ACCENTUS ACC30505 [61:29]

Inevitably, there’s some degree of overlap between the Hyperion and the new Accentus. The main difference is the inclusion of some of Prætorius’ dance music on the former, while the latter is purely choral. The dance music may tempt you to a fuller collection, such as the classic David Munrow recording, gloriously inauthentic but great fun, with crumhorns and all (Erato Veritas, super-budget twofer, with dance music by Susato, Morley, etc). If you thought that there was only one tune to Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, the Vulpius setting on track 2 will come as a pleasant surprise.

Both sets of performers bring out the sheer sense of joy in this Christmas music, and both are well recorded, with the 24/96 version of the Accentus, which I heard, giving the sound an edge over the 16-bit only Hyperion, good as that is. If it makes any difference, the Accentus seems likely to cost around three times as much on CD as the Hyperion download in the UK – the pre-order from one dealer is priced as £19.75 as I write, but I note that the US SRP is considerably lower, at $19.99.

Organ Works of the North German Baroque Vol. XIII contains Complete Organ Works of Michael PRÆTORIUS and organ music by David ABEL, Johann BAHR, Jakob BÖLSCHE, Petrus HASSE I, Petrus HASSE II, Wilhelm KARGES, Hieronymus PRÆTORIUS III, Andreas WERCKMEISTER and Melchior WOLTMANN – Friedrich Flamme on the Christoph-Treutmann-Orgel der Klosterkirche St Georg zu Grauhof bei Goslar (CPO 777716-2, 2 SACDs, reviewed as downloaded in stereo from press access)

This set – the complete organ works of Prætorius and the other, lesser composers, presents a good selection of music across the liturgical year, including several Advent and Christmas works.

There were several composers called Prætorius, mostly unrelated – it’s a Latinized version of a German name – but Jakob PRÆTORIUS (1586-1651) was the son of yet another of the name, Hieronymus Prætorius. Jakob’s organ music has been recorded by Bernard Fouccroulle on the organ of Jakobikirche, Lübeck, together with organ music by Melchior SCHILDT (1592-1667) on Ricercar RIC400 review.

Tobias ZEUTSCHNER (1621–1675)
Ehre sey Gott allein à 12 [4:50]
Anonymous
Hosianna Filio David à 6 [6:15]
Tobias ZEUTSCHNER
Die Geburth unsers HERRN und Heylandes Jesu Christi à 18 (1660) [25:46]
Es ist kein ander Heyl à 6 [6:17]
Ecce nunc benedicite à 3 [3:47]
Anonymous
Halleluja – Gelobet seystu Jesu Christ à 15 [7'18]
Anonymous
Magnificat cum rotulis à 18 [17'15]
Weser-Renaissance Bremen/Manfred Cordes
rec. 3-5 January 2020, Stiftskirche Bassum.
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview.
CPO 555368–2 [71:37]

If you have been charmed by Schütz’s Christmas Story and are looking for something like it, this Zeutschner account of ‘The birth of our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ’ in 18 parts may well fit the bill. It’s my discovery of discoveries for Christmas 2021. Its date was doubtful until recently, but the notes place the first performance firmly in January 1660, thus predating the Schütz by a few years. Who else would you expect you to provide it but CPO?

PHILIDOR le Cadet (1657-1708)
Marche de Timbales [1:23]
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Te Deum, H.146 [23:22]
Missa ‘Assumpta est Maria’ H.11 [32:24]
Litanies de la Vierge H.83 (à 6 voix et 2 dessus de violes) [17:54]
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. 4-7 October 1988, Église Notre-Dame du Travail, Paris (XIVe)
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
HARMONIA MUNDI HAF8901298 [75:04]

This mid-price reissue is included in this Christmas selection by association: the Te Deum was coupled with Charpentier’s setting of the Messe de Minuit, the Christmas Midnight Mass, on a King’s College, Cambridge, recording many years ago. That David Willcocks recording, though far from authentic, still makes for enjoyable listening by dint of the quality of the singing – the choir supported by Felicity Lott, James Bowman and Ian Partridge, but it’s now over-expensive as a download without booklet (Warner 5747262). Around £13 is far too much to pay for that when Kevin Mallon and his Aradia Ensemble couple the two works on Naxos (8.557229 review review). Even less expensively, Les Arts Florissants and William Christie perform the Mass and other Christmas works, In nativitatem Domini canticum, H. 416, and a selection of Noëls, in style on another download-only recording available for less than £4.50 (Erato 8573858202 review 2018 Christmas Survey) and Harmonia Mundi have now reissued this recording of the Te Deum at mid-price.

The new CD sells for around £9, but you may be able to find the earlier release of this recording on Harmonia Mundi Gold to download for slightly less than that (HMG501298) and their still earlier Veritas recording of the Te Deum and Messe des Morts can be found as a download for just over £6 (5457332).

Marches Pour Les Trompettes H.547 [4:28]
Te Deum H.146 [20:42]
Dixit Dominus H.202 [11:12]
In Honorem Sancti Ludovici Regis Galliæ Canticum H.365 [15:49]
Domine salvum fac Regem H.291 [2:47]
Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
rec. Église Notre Dame du Liban, Paris, July 2000
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as downloaded from press access
GLOSSA CABINET GCDC81603 [55:11] Originally released as GCDC921603.

This more recent recording of the Te Deum has recently been reissued at around the same price as the Harmonia Mundi, an attractive £8.50 or so on CD, but, perplexingly, a pound or so more expensive as a lossless download from some dealers. At least the download comes with a pdf booklet. Much as I like Les Arts Florissants in the music of this period and in Charpentier in particular, Niquet and le Concert Spirituel really hit the spot with a lively account of the Te Deum on what was their first recording for the Glossa label. The coupling may be less generous than the Harmonia Mundi but, otherwise, this would be my preferred choice. Apart from being graced with one of the label’s attractive botanical covers, the booklet is as fine as the original – preferable to the text-free version which accompanied these recordings when released as part of a 3-CD offering which Robert Hugill liked in all other respects (review).

At the risk of seeming banal, I should mention that two recent recordings have added to the groaning shelves of Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) The Four Seasons, Op.8/1-4. Despite my preference for period-instrument performances, and especially for the super-budget Brilliant Classics set of the whole of Op.8, I was very impressed with the very young Christian Li and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (4851824 review). Those seeking period performance may be more interested in a recent Avie release, from Apollo’s Fire with Francisco Fullana (violin) and directed by Jeannette Sorrel (AV2485). At just 52 minutes, with a single filler, the Trio Sonata, Op.1/12, ‘La Folia’, it’s short value for a full-price issue, and the publicity claim that Fullana is ‘one of the first international solo violinists to fully embrace and absorb the baroque language of historical performance’ is rather exaggerated – didn’t the likes of Rachel Podger and even earlier exponents get there first?

Or, indeed, La Serenissima and Adrian Chandler on an earlier Avie recording of the Manchester manuscript version (AV2344). Not only is the performance preferable to the new version, which strives a little too much for effect in the faster movements, though the shepherd’s drowsiness is well caught in the slow movement of Spring, there are three substantial bonus concertos, RV501, 221 and 496, two of them receiving their first recorded outings – review. After hearing Nigel Kennedy’s mangling of The Seasons, that La Serenissima recording seemed irresistible when I reviewed it in DL News 2015/10.

The short playing time of the new Avie means that you could obtain the Brilliant Classics Op.8 twofer and their recording of the complete Op.1 sonatas, including ‘La Folia’, like the Op.8 from Federico Guglielmo and L’Arte dell’Arco (94784), as lossless downloads, around £5.50 each, four times the music, for around the same price. Other download releases of the Brilliant Classics Op.8 are even less expensive, for example, a 4½-hour offering with the cello, oboe and flute concertos for around £8.50, with booklet (96045, also on CD for around £14). Not all dealers now seem to stock these Brilliant Classics Vivaldi recordings on CD – even Amazon UK, who have them for around £11 are reporting short stock – but the lossless downloads make a good substitute, apart from the lack of booklets, with 96045 an honourable exception.

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767) wrote more sacred music even than Bach, so it’s hardly surprising that there’s music for all seasons in his output, not least for Advent and Christmas. And if there’s one label that we can rely on to bring us that music, it’s CPO, and this is a good place to sum up their releases of the repertoire:

Advent Cantatas: 777955-2 – review
Christmas Oratorios: 555254-2
Christmas Cantatas: 999515-2
Christmas Oratorio (Cantatas from 1761/2): 999419-2
Christmas Cantatas II: 555166-2 – review
Christmas Cantatas III: 555396-2 – review

I couldn’t find that we had reviewed three of these, so I checked them out from B2B access and streaming.

555254-2 contains three works: Sehet und schmecket, TWV1:1251; Im hellen Glanz der Glaubensonnen, TWV1:926; Herr Gott dich loben wir, TWV1:745 and Und das Wort ward Fleisch, TWV1:1431, all from the 1730/31 cycle. Kölner Akademie and Michael Alexander Willens, regular stalwarts of CPO’s baroque coverage, are joined by a fine group of soloists – Telemann had an accomplished group at his disposal in Hamburg – recorded in 2018 and presented with texts and translations. Though these works are of cantata length, the notes justify the use of the term ‘oratorio’. In fact, the two terms were more or less inter-changeable: Bach’s ‘Christmas Oratorio’ is actually a series of cantatas for the days between Christmas and Epiphany.

999419-2 consists of three cantatas, recorded in 1996 by Constanze Backes (soprano), Mechthild Georg (alto), Andreas Post (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass), Telemann Kammerorchester and Kammerchor Michaelstein, conducted by Ludger Rémy: Die Hirten bei der Krippe zu Bethlehem, TWV 1:797; Siehe, ich verkündige euch große Freude, TWV 1:1334 and Der Herr hat offenbaret, TWV 1:262.

Ludger Rémy also conducted the same choir and orchestra in 1997 on 919515-2: this time the soloists are Dorothee Mields, Britta Schwarz, Wilfried Jochens and Dirk Schmidt. The works are Saget der Tochter Zion, TWV1:1235, Saget den verzagten Herzen, TWV1:1233, Auf Zion, TWV1:109 and Göttlichs Kind, lass mit Entzücken, TWV1:1020. All these are well worth seeking in the back catalogue; though some dealers report the CDs currently out of stock, they are available to download or stream with the booklet.

It’s not just Telemann’s Christmas music that CPO have covered in such fine fashion. One of their recent releases of his music is of four Easter Cantatas:

Ich war tot, und siehe, ich bin lebendig [TVWV 1:872] [13:25]
Triumph! Ihr Frommen freuet euch [TVWV 1:1424] [19:48]
Er ist auferstanden [TVWV 1:460] [8:31]
Brannte nicht unser Herz in uns [TVWV 1:131] [14:45]
Verlass doch einst, O Mensch [TVWV 1:1470] [14:33]
Johanna Winkel (soprano), Margot Oitzinger (alto), Georg Poplutz (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass),
Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens – rec. 17-20 November 2020.
Texts and translations included CPO 555425-2 [71:40]

In fact, Telemann is such a Man for all Seasons – with apologies to Thomas More – that it’s rapidly becoming apparent to me that he requires an article all to himself, in which CPO will figure largely. Meanwhile, don’t wait till Easter to savour this recording, or another recent CPO release of Telemann’s cantatas for the Hanoverian Kings of England. I didn’t even know they existed, but again it's CPO who have provided them : 555426-2

Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760)
Christmas Cantatas
Frohlocke, werte Christenheit
Der Herr hat mich gehabt im Anfang
Du Licht des Lebens scheinet hell
Das Licht scheinet in der Finsternis
Von Gott will ich nicht lassen
Veronika Winter (soprano)
Franz Vitzthum (alto)
Jan Kobow (tenor)
Markus Flaig (bass)
Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
rec. January 2010.
CPO 777572-2 [73:42].

It’s eleven years since Johan van Veen made this a Recording of the Month – review. The record companies have brought us more of the music of this composer who would have been preferred by the town council of Leipzig to Bach, but, sadly, there have not been many more recordings of his copious Christmas music, so I thought it well worth including a reminder of this.

There’s more Graupner music for Advent through to Epiphany on a pair of Ricercar CDs which I reviewed in DL Roundup February 2012/2. That’s also included in an inexpensive 7-CD set of German Baroque Sacred Music: Christmas (RIC349).

Another CPO recording brings us Epiphany Music by Graupner: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, er ist mein Licht, GWV1114/43 [17:58]; Erwacht, ihr Heyden, GWV1111/34 [18:37]; Die Waßer Wogen im Meer sind groß, GWV1115/35 [16:37]; Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, es bleibt gerecht sein Wille, GWV1114/30 [19:39]; Gott, der Herr, ist Sonne und Schild, GWV1113/54 [19:19] – Andrea Lauren Brown (soprano), Kai Wessel (countertenor), Georg Poplutz (tenor), Dominik Worner (bass), Kirchheimer BachConsort, Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch (555146-2, 2 CDs).

Nowadays, most people seem to believe the superstition that the Christmas decorations must be taken down before January 5, which they wrongly believe to be Twelfth Night – that’s January 6, the Epiphany, the culmination of the twelve days of Christmas and an important date in the Lutheran, Roman and Anglican calendars, though now largely overlooked. Why not restore the practice and listen to these Graupner cantatas on the day itself or the following Sunday? Performance, recording and presentation are all up to CPO standards.

Joseph Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Der Stern von Bethlehem , Op.164 (1890) [46:47]
Advent-Motetten (9), Op.176:
No. 1. Ad te levavi [2:04]
No. 2. Universi [1:49]
No. 3. Ex Sion [1:52]
No. 4. Deus tu convertens [2:21]
No. 5. Qui sedes [2:12]
No. 6. Benedixisti [2:19]
No. 7. Rorate coeli [1:55]
No. 8. Prope est Dominus [2:06]
No. 9. Ave Maria [1:59]
Dilek Gecer (soprano), Michael Junge (baritone)
Vogtland Philharmonic Orchestra Greiz-Reichenbach
Dresden University Choir/Stefan Fraas
rec. Lukaskirche Dresden, 20-21 December 1998 and 7 February 1999.
Texts in German and Latin included – no translation.
Previously released in 1999 as FCD368374
Reviewed as press preview
ARS PRODUKTION ARS38327 SACD [65:34]

Alternative recording: Der Stern von Bethlehem – Rita Streich (soprano), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Bavarian Radio Chorus, Graunke Symphony Orchestra/Robert Heger, rec. 1968 CARUS 83:111 [47:39] – review – also included in 10-CD set – Rheinberger Sacred Choral Works CARUS 83.336. Advent Motets included in 10-CD set or with Missa in G, S Crucis, Thomas Berning (organ), Vocalensemble Rastatt/Holger Speck CARUS 83.158.

Neither of these recordings is new, but either would serve very well. I have to admit to finding Christmas music from the baroque era much more to my liking, so neither of these recordings is likely to find a place on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, though I might be more tempted by Rita Streich and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on the Carus reissue of a recording which once appeared on HMV ASD2630. The Carus 10-CD set is also well worth considering.

Philipp WOLFRUM (1854–1919)
Ein Weihnachtsmysterium nach Worten der Bibel und Spielen des Volkes Op.31 (1898) [100:49]
Joo-Anne Bitter (soprano)
Anne Schuldt (alto)
Paweł Brozek (tenor)
Martin Berner, Hans Christian Hinz (baritone)
Hamelner Kantorei an der Marktkirche
Jugendkantorei Hameln
Philipp-Wolfrum-Ensemble
Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie/Stefan Vanselow
rec. 30 November and 1 December 2019, Marktkirche St. Nicolai, Hameln, Germany
German text included
CHRISTOPHORUS CHR77458 [62:11 + 38:41]

How could someone called Wolfrum not be a friend of and influenced by Wagner and Liszt? And how could someone so influential in musical circles around 1900 be so little know today? Richard Strauss described this Christmas work as 'Bachsches Können, vereint mit Lisztscher Ekstase' (Bachian ability combined with Lisztian ecstasy), yet this is the only current recording, and I don’t recall any others, and there are only two other currently available recordings of his music, both of organ music. Brent Johnson reviewed one of these, on MDG, and I listened to the other, performed by Halgeir Schiager on the Sauer organ of the Lutheran Church, Chemnitz (Oehms OC416, rec.2011). I can’t compare the two, but the Oehms is certainly well worth investigating by lovers of large-scale organ music, especially fans of Liszt organ music.

If Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ is not seasonal enough, there’s always Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936) The Seasons, which opens not with Spring but with Winter. There are several fine recordings at all prices; many like the version from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Neeme Järvi (Chandos CHAN8596, with Violin Concerto), but it’s not quite my ideal, with Spring a little rushed and Autumn a little lethargic; I think you would be better with a Decca Eloquence twofer from Ernest Ansermet, now download only and more expensive than when I reviewed the CDs, or, perhaps best of all, a Double Decca from the RPO and Vladimir Ashkenazy, coupled with Prokofiev Cinderella (4553492). But hurry – the CDs are out of stock from some dealers, and the whole Double Decca series has a tendency to become download-only.

Richard WETZ (1875–1935)
Ein Weihnachtsoratorium auf alt-deutsche Gedichte Op.53
(Christmas Oratorio based on old German poems, 1927-29)
Marietta Zumbült (soprano)
Máté Sólyom-Nagy (baritone)
Dombergchor Erfurt
Philharmonischer Chor Erfurt
Thüringisches Kammerorchester Weimar/George Alexander Albrecht
rec. live, Thomaskirche Erfurt, November 27, 2010
Texts not included
Reviewed as downloaded from press access
CPO 777638–2 [70:02]

Back catalogue material which we seem not to have reviewed. Don’t expect the gloriously confident Christmas that Schütz, Prætorius, Telemann and Bach give us. There are joyful moments, to be sure, but the overall impression is of a serious reflection on the Nativity, rather in the manner of TS Eliot’s Journey of the Magi.

The lack of texts in such unfamiliar material is inexcusable.

Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël is the main item on a 1997 recording entitled The Mystery of Christmas, performed by the Elora Festival Singers and Noel Edison, with Michael Bloss (organ) on a Naxos recording from the back catalogue (8.554179). The other main item of interest is the Huron carol which opens the proceedings, while the rest of the programme is varied but not especially adventurous.

The Elora Festival Singers re-recorded the Poulenc for Naxos in 2013 as part of an all-Poulenc album, ‘an ideal place to start’ according to Gary Higginson (8.572978 – review ). They are, in fact, something of a mainstay of the Naxos choral repertoire and both recordings of the Poulenc demonstrate why their albums have been consistently well received.

Carol of the Bells
Bob CHILCOTT (b.1955) Pilgrim Jesus [2.04]
Michael PRAETORIUS (c.1571-1621) / Jan SANDSTRÖM (b.1954) Lo, how a rose e’er blooming [4.23]
Traditional Sans Day Carol [2.50]
Matthew MARTIN (b.1976) Adam lay ybounden [3.13]
Mykola LEONTOVICH (1877-1921) Carol of the Bells [1.16]
Cecilia McDOWALL (b.1951) Of a rose [2.31]
Traditional Carol of the Advent [2.08]
Kim PORTER (b.1965) Christmas Eve [2.49]
Sir Richard Rodney BENNETT (1936-2012) Susanni (from Five Carols) [1.35]
Alan BULLARD (b.1947) Glory to the Christ Child [2.53]
Eric WHITACRE (b.1970) Lux aurumque [4.16]
Jonathan DOVE (b.1959) I am the day [6.54]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) This have I done for my true love [5.46]
Traditional Wassail Song [3.16]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Long, long ago [5.30]
William WALTON (1902-83) All this time [1.47]
Traditional All in the morning [3.00]
Joseph PHIBBS (b.1974) Lullay, lullay, thou lytil child [4.28]
James BURTON (b.1974) Balulalow [2.20]
Traditional Herrick’s Carol [3.16]
Bob CHILCOTT Advent Antiphons [13:17]
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
rec. Church of St Augustine, Kilburn, London, 23-25 March 2021
Texts included
Reviewed as 24/96 download from thesixteenshop.com
CORO COR16188 [79:37] Also available on CD and as mp3 and 16-bit downloads.

The Sixteen’s offering for Christmas 2021 is a blend of the traditional and the contemporary – and none the less enjoyable for that. Their many fans will doubtless add this to their collection without any urging from me.

100 CHRISTMAS MEDITATION
Various works, performers and recording dates
CAPRICCIO C7371 [5 CDs – 5:30:25]

This 5-CD set of meditative Christmas music, a follow-up to Capriccio’s 100 Christmas Classics (C7331) offers good value – around £26.50 – if your collection needs a boost of Christmas music. A word of caution, however: what looks like a rich compendium consists mainly of short, often very short extracts from longer works in recordings which have in many cases been round the block and back several times. I know that there are many whose acquaintance with classical music extends no further than compilations like this, but many listeners will want to take the next step and choose at least a complete CD of extracts from Messiah, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, the ‘Christmas’ concertos of Corelli, Manfredini, etc. And surely anyone who doesn’t have a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons will want to progress to the complete set of four concertos and, hopefully, to the complete Op.8 set of which they form the first part. If so, I wouldn’t necessarily choose the Frankfurt Vocal Ensemble, Concerto Köln and Ralf Otto in the Bach or Max Emanuel Cenčić, Charles Hemphries, the Academy of London and Peter Marschik in Messiah.

CD 1
BACH: Christmas Oratorio: Pastoral Symphony
PRAETORIUS: Kindelein zart
VIVALDI The Four Seasons: Winter (arr. flute and harp)
BACH Jesu mienes Herzens Freund
MANFREDINI: Christmas Concerto (excerpt)
HERBECK: Pueri concinite
CPE BACH Flute Sonata in E-flat: Siciliano
HANDEL: Messiah: He shall feed his flock
GABRIELI: Symphoniæ sacræ: Sonata pian’ e forte
Maria durch ein Dornwald ging
MOLTER Concerto pastorale in G
Gott hat dich Maria erwählt
BACH Oboe Concerto, BWV1059R: Adagio
Cantata No.143 (except): Du Friedenfürst, Herr Jesu Christ
BONONCINI Divertimento da camera No. 6 in c minor: Lento dolce
HANDEL: Organ Concerto in B-Flat Major, Op/6 (version for harp and orchestra): Largo

CD 2
HANDEL Messiah (Pastoral Symphony)
BACH: Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier
CORELLI: Christmas Concerto Op. 6/8
TRADITIONAL: Es ist ein Reis entsprungen
GRIEG: Ave Maris stella
BRUCH: Song of the Holy Kings, Op. 21…

CD 3
BACH/GOUNOD: Ave Maria
PRAETORIUS: Den die Hirten lobten sehre
BACH: O Jesulein süß
VIVALDI: Concerto grosso Op. 3 No. 11 (Siciliano)
WILLIS: It Came upon a Midnight Clear
BACH: Nun komm der Heiden Heiland….

CD 4
ADAM: Cantique de Noël (O Holy Night)
LOCATELLI: Concerto grosso “Christmas Concerto”
REGER: Und unser lieben Frauen
RHEINBERGER: Evening Song
MENDELSSOHN: Psalm 91 (Denn er hat seinen Engeln)

CD 5
SAINT-SAËNS: Oratorio de Noël (Air)
BRUCH: Songs of the Christ Child
TELEMANN: Overture in F “A la pastorelle”
PALESTRINA: Et incarnatus est
REICHERT: Heilige Nacht
ALBINONI: Concerto in d minor (Largo)
GRUBER: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Wiener Sängerknaben (Vienna Boys’ Choir); Dresdner Kreuzchor; Thomanerchor Leipzig; Regensburger Domspatzen; Rheinische Kantorei
Ruth Ziesak, Ann Monoyios, Maria Zadori (soprano)
Jochen Kowalski, Axel Köhler, David Cordier (alto)
Reinhold Friedrich (trumpet); Eckart Haupt (flute); Andrea Vigh (harp); Matthias Eisenberg (organ; Concerto Köln; Deutsche Bachsolisten; Neues Berliner Kammerorchester; Dresdner Barocksolisten; Lautten Compagney; Academy Of London
Michael Erxleben; Hermann Max; Hans-Joachim Rotzsch

Over the years there have been several DG albums of Christmas music featuring Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. Universal seem to go up to their attic every so often and rummage around to bring us a seasonal compilation. The latest is Christmas in Berlin (4861324), and some of these tired old Karajan recordings feature again, which makes the new compilation no more enticing than the 2017 reissue on which they appeared. I’m a great fan of Karajan in the right repertoire, as in the recent blu-ray/5-CD reissue of his Sibelius (Recording of the Month – review), but his attempts at baroque music are models of how not to do it. I’m amazed to see that the great Edward Greenfield described the ‘languorous beauty’ of his Christmas recordings when they appeared in 1970, though he did warn that anyone with a feeling for authentic style should stay well clear.

Mercifully, this time, it’s not all Karajan; if you want Albrecht Mayer, Rainer Kußmaul and the Berliner Barock Solisten in the reconstructed Bach Concerto BWV1060, for example, that recording is no longer otherwise generally available, but the Karajan items still present a problem.

I expected more from the Sankt Florianer Sängerknaben in Little Christmas (Ars Production ARS38602 – from Amazon UK) and I was not disappointed. The choir at St Florian in Upper Austria has existed continuously since 1071, so this release is a celebration of their 950th birthday, with recordings made between 1998 and 2021 under the direction of Franz Farnberger and Markus Stumpner. The repertoire is wide-ranging, from the opening chant Veni redemptor gentium to Jingle Bells and Have yourself a very merry Christmas, with mainly traditional material in-between – O Tannenbaum, Adeste fideles, God rest you, merry gentleman, Es ist ein Ros entspungen, and the like. There’s no Bruckner, who was one of the Sängerknaben and later the organist there. There is, however, music by Kodály and Max Reger. The singing – with the men joining the boys in several of the pieces, for welcome variety – is clear and lucid, as is the diction, even in the English texts, and there’s nothing coy or over-sentimental. Apart, perhaps, from the solo in Have yourself a very merry Christmas, and that’s a very sentimental piece. Texts and translations are included.

The cover shot of feet in slippers and socks toasting at the fire suggest that there’s more traditional fare on Christmas Carols with the King’s Singers (SIGNUM SIGCD683 [68:20]) and what you see is pretty well what you get. For once, this recording was made at the right time of the year, at Cedars Hall, Wells Cathedral School, in December 2020. The repertoire ranges from the plainsong Hodie Christus natus est via O Little Town of Bethlehem and Tomorrow shall be my dancing day, to Bob Chilcott’s (b.1955) The Shepherd’s Carol. Some of this is core repertoire through several avatars of the King’s Singers; their current incarnation will not disappoint their many fans. There’s also some less known material, such as Goff Richards’ arrangement of the traditional La filadora (the Spinner).

Though collections like this and the Ars Production contain some interesting unfamiliar material, you end up with your umpty-ninth version of some (over) familiar pieces.

A MEXICAN CHRISTMAS
The Newberry Consort/Ellen Hargis
EnsAmble Ad-Hoc/Francy Acosta, José Luis Posada
rec. live 8 December, 2019, First United Methodist Church, Evanston IL
NAVONA NV6375 [69:31]

There have been other recordings of the music performed in the New World in the seventeenth century, often, like this, with a mix of European and Native American instruments, and in a style which blends the two. Of particular interest are the three recordings for Hyperion by Ex Cathedra and Geoffrey Skidmore – all reviewed in Hyperion Top 30, while SACDA67600 also remains available on SACD – review. Of the composers included there, only Juan de Padilla (Christus natus est; Voces, las de la capilla; Al establo más dichoso; Si al nacer o miniño) and Juan de Zéspedes (the wonderful Convindando está la noche) feature on this Navona release, along with Gaspar Fernandez (Andrés Do quedo el ganado? Dame albricias, mano Antón), José de Cáseda (Qué musica divina), Fray Jerónimo Gonzalez (Serenísima una noche), Joan Cererols (Suspended, Cielos, vuestro dulce canto) and Santiago de Murcia (Cumbé; La Azucena). The music embraces a number of styles, from convent to plaza, much of it in the villancico manner, and the (live) performances, while not quite as striking as those of Ex Cathedra, very enjoyable. Texts and translations from the Navona website.

I missed a Signum recording entitled Incarnation, a sequence of seasonal music concluding with Benjamin BRITTEN’s A Boy was born, when it was released in 2013 and reviewed by John Quinn, who ‘enjoyed [it] enormously’ and jointly by Gwyn Parry-Jones (Recording of the Month) and Simon Thompson – review. I’m including it here for no better reason than that just about everything that Paul McCreesh has ever set his hand to, with his Gabrieli Consort, here supplemented by the Copenhagen Boys’ Choir, has been well worth hearing. I shall not miss it this Christmas – it’s sure to be a regular, if belated, listening experience, along with their recording of the Prætorius Christmas Mass mentioned above. Its generally contemplative nature offers the ideal contrast to the outpouring of joy on the DG album.  The cover may not be as fancy as that DG Archiv; all their recordings for Signum share the plain look, and ‘tinsel and holly are nowhere in sight’, to quote JQ again, but there’s nothing here that needs to be dressed up. The download from hyperion-records.co.uk comes in mp3, 16- and 24-bit formats, booklet included, with even the higher format costing a mere £9 (SIGCD346 [77:22])

For millions of people around the world, Christmas begins with the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Cambridge on December 24. More recently, King's College choir have brought us an annual album to supplement that broadcast. This year their present to us is entitled In the bleak Midwinter: Christmas Carols from King’s, with the choir directed by Daniel Hyde, with Matthew Martin (organ). That’s all that many readers will need to know.

The programme, recorded in December 2020 and June 2021, opens with the usual processional Once in Royal David’s City and, while the programme is mostly traditional, some of the settings may be unfamiliar, including an arrangement by Elizabeth Poston and Daniel Hyde of I saw three Ships (track 16). The title carol receives an especially heartfelt performance (tr. 4). Some familiar music appears with unfamiliar words, as in the case of Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, to an old French tune (tr. 13). There’s new-ish material, too, including Bob Chilcott’s Still, still, still (tr. 17), while the Philip Ledger arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Hark! The Herald Angels sing is preceded by a prelude composed and played by Matthew Martin (tr.18). I listened to the 24/192 download, with booklet, from hyperion-records.co.uk. mp3, 16-bit and 24/96 versions are also available. (KGS0060 [74:30]).

The Australian label ABC Classics regularly fillets its own recordings and puts them together as a themed release. Classical Hugs: Music of Comfort and Hope, an inexpensive 2-CD set or download is one of their latest compilations – no holly or tinsel, but what better theme could there be for this time of year? None of the recordings would be my first choice but cumulatively they add up to very competent presentations – often more – of the repertoire. Opening with the Air from BACH’s Suite No.3 (Tasmanian SO/David Stanhope), followed by Jayson Gilham (piano) in Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, FAURÉ's Pavane (Sydney SO/Matias Bamert) and Bailèro from Songs of the Auvergne (Sara Macliver, the Queensland SO/Brett Kelly), the 14 tracks on CD1 close with VAUGHAN WILLIAMS’ Fantasia on Greensleeves (Tasmanian SO/David Stanhope). CD2 (14 tracks again) opens with Vergnügte Ruh from BACH’s Cantata No.170 and closes with BARBER’s Adagio for strings. (ABCL0006 or CH0012, download only in UK?).

My chief reason for recommending it to those still hovering on the brink of classical music is that it may well tempt them to try a complete recording of, say, Bach Cantatas, or CANTELOUBE’s Songs of the Auvergne. The latter, by happenstance, has just been released on the BIS label in a recording of all five series of these beautiful settings by Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Tapiola Sinfonietta and Pascal Rophé, a Recording of the Month (BIS-2513 SACD – review by John Quinn). I listened to the 24-bit stereo download from eclassical.com, where it’s available with booklet. Surround sound comes at the same price as 24-bit stereo and there’s also a less expensive 16-bit version. Though my allegiance to Victoria de los Angeles (Warner 5669872, download only) and Kiri te Kanawa (a bargain Decca twofer 4449952, with Villa Lobos Bachianas No.5) is not diminished, the new release takes its rightful place alongside them, with SACD and 24-bit availability a bonus, especially for fans of surround sound.

Nat ‘King’ Cole: A Sentimental Christmas runs for a mere 36 minutes, but the 11 tracks pack in all that you might expect, from the opening Deck the Halls/Joy to the World to the closing Chestnuts roasting on an open Fire. The friends who contribute are Johnny Mathis, Kristin Chenoweth, Calum Scott, Gloria Estefan and John Legend.

I’m not sure of the date of all these recordings, but there was a 1962 album The Christmas Song with very similar contents, including the roasting chestnuts, a song first set down by Cole in 1946. There’s even a vinyl version, at a price, for those wishing fully to recreate the nostalgia. (Capitol Records/Decca 3816917 also on LP).

Femina moderna: music for mixed choir
Libby LARSEN (b. 1950)
Songs of Youth and Pleasure (1986) [10'49]
Anna-Karin KLOCKAR (b. 1960)
Speeches (2015) [9'17]
Andrea TARRODI (b. 1981)
Lume (2007) [6'09]
Lera AUERBACH (b. 1973)
Lullaby (2002) [4'13]
Anna CEDERBERG-ORRETEG (b. 1958)
Jordnära (2013) for female choir [2'45]
Cecilia McDOWALL (b. 1951)
Regina cæli (2004) [2'45]
Tebogo MONNAKGOTLA (b. 1972)
Apelsinen har mognat (2000) [3'13]
Nana FORTE (b. 1981)
Libera me (2003) for two mixed choirs [5'58]
Galina GRIGORJEVA (b. 1962)
In paradisum (2012) for male choir [2'46]
Maria LÖFBERG (b. 1968)
Sandskrift (2014) [7'08]
Karin REHNQVIST (b. 1957)
Tilt, drama för kör (1985) [8'42]
Susanne ROSENBERG (b. 1957)
Pust (1998) [4'58]
Clara LINDSJÖ (b. 1991)
The Find (2010) [4'50]
Allmänna Sången/Maria Goundorina
rec. September 2015 and March 2016, Bälinge Church, Sweden
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com .
BIS-2224 SACD [75:53]

Admittedly, there’s plenty on this celebration of modern femininity by contemporary composers that isn’t immediately relevant to Christmas, but I can make a strong case for my favourite piece, Lume: like Diwali and Hanukah, Christmas is a celebration of light over darkness, of good over evil, and Lume celebrates just the one word, ‘Light’ with six minutes of ethereal singing. The following track, Lullaby, is also appropriate to the Christmas season, as is Regina cæli, the celebration of Mary as Queen of Heaven. Even the two settings of parts of the Requiem, Libera me and In paradisum, are not inappropriate: after all, TS Eliot’s Magus, reflecting many years later on his journey to the infant Jesus, reflects on how life and death are inter-related. Most importantly of all, this is an attractive album, attractively sung, with nothing too avant garde despite some quirky texts, which we seem to have missed when it was released, and well worth getting to know over the Christmas period, perhaps after the carols have been over-played and the Vienna New Year’s concert has yet to happen.

Licht der Welt: A Christmas Promenade
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Weihnachten. Leise weht’s durch alle Lande [3’07]
Das Licht der Welt. Es strahlt am Himmelsrande [1’49]
Peter CORNELIUS (1824-1874)
Die Hirten Op.8/2b. Die Hirten wachen nachts im Feld [3’00]
Christbaum. Wie schön geschmückt der festliche Raum! [1’48]
Die Könige Op.8/3b. Drei Kön’ge wandern aus Morgenland [2’25]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Giv mig ej glans, ej guld, ej prakt, Op.1/4 [3’21]
Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Weihnachtslied. Auf, schicke dich [2’27]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Weihnachtslied Op.79/16: Als das Christkind ward zur Welt gebracht [2’03]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Noël Op.43/1. Le nuit descend du haut des cieux [2’41]
Eduard TOLDRÀ (1895-1962)
Cantarcillo. Pues andáis en las palmas [3’07]
Joaquín NIN Y CASTELLANOS (1879-1949)
Villancico murciano. Esta noche es Nochebuena [Diez villancicos españoles, No.6] [2’09]
Villancico vasco. Ator, ator mutil etxera [Diez villancicos españoles, No.3] [2’18]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Julens Vuggesang [The Christmas Tree, EG 155]. Du har saa bløden Vuggeseng [2’14]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Nuit de Noël [Péchés de vieillesse, Album français no6]. Calme et sans voile [5’22]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
La Madonna col Bambino. Fermarono i cieli [3’39]
MAURICE RAVEL (1875-1937)
Noël des jouets. Le troupeau verni des moutons [3’02]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Noël païen. Noël ! Noël ! [3’10]
Noël des fleurs. Il pleut des iris, des jasmins, des roses [1’55]
Le Noël des humbles. L’enfant est nu [2’05]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Chantez Noël CG 184a. Montez à Dieu, chants d’allégresse ! [5’37]
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)
Noël des oiseaux. Petit Jésus, maître du ciel [3’01]
Joseph MARX (1882-1964)
Christbaum [Lieder und Gesänge, I. Folge Nr.2]. Hörst’ auch Du die leisen Stimmen [3’11]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Weihnachtsgefühl WoO.94. Naht die jubelvolle Zeit [2’12]
Die heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland [Sechs Lieder Op.56/6] [5’42]
Christiane Karg (soprano)
Gerold Huber (piano)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Howard Arman
rec. 29 March-1 April 2021, Bayerischer Rundfunk – Studio 2
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview. Download in 16- and 24-bit from eclassical.com
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902399 [71:38]

That this recording finds itself almost at the end of the round-up has nothing to do with its quality, rather it’s because the press preview arrived late on the scene, as I was preparing to draw the threads together. In a way, it’s appropriate that the survey should begin and end with mostly less familiar material, this time from a wide variety of sources, but opening and closing with German-language repertoire, all delightfully sung and sympathetically accompanied. Most of the material is sung solo by Christiane Karg who has, as Margarida Mota Bull predicted in making one of her early recordings on Berlin Classics a Recording of the Month – review – since deservedly become more of a household name. Along with the less familiar material, it was a risky move to have a soprano sing Cornelius’ Die drei Könige, usually firmly in the male vocal domain, but the gamble has worked.

CHRISTMAS WITHOUT WORDS
Leroy ANDERSON (arranged by Bjorn Kleiman)
Sleigh Ride [2.45]
Antonio VIVALDI
Largo – second movement from Winter [1.53]
Traditional (arranged by Bjorn Kleiman)
Deck The Halls [1.59]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (arranged for violin and string orchestra by Yuri Zhislin)
Melodie, Op.42 [3.36]
Traditional (arranged by Take 6, orchestrated by Yuri Zhislin)
O Come All Ye Faithful [2.16]
Hugh MARTIN and Ralph BLANE (arranged by Yuri Zhislin)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas [3.28]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (arranged by Bjorn Kleiman)
By the Fireplace (“January”), from The Seasons, Op.37 [5.03]
Buck RAM, Kim GANNON and Walter KENT (arranged by Yuri Zhislin )
I’ll Be Home for Christmas [2.17]
Traditional (arranged by Yuri Zhislin)
Silent Night [3.49]
Camerata Tchaikovsky/Yuri Zhislin
ORCHID ORC100186 [26:47]

If you want to get away from the words, this EP from Camerata Tchaikovsky could be your answer. If anything, you’ll find yourself wishing it were longer – unless you find it all too sugary: try the Take 6/Yuri Zhislin arrangement of O come, all ye faithful first.

The Swingle Singers … unwrapped.
Arcangelo CORELLI
Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.8 (‘Christmas Concerto’)
Harold DARKE
In the Bleak Midwinter
Mel TORMÉ & Robert WELLS
Christmas Song
Joni MITCHELL
River
Howard BLAKE
Walking in the Air (From ‘The Snowman’)
Sammy CAHN & Julie STYNE

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!
Traditional arr. Alexander L’Estrange
O Tannenbaum
Johnny MARKS
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Joan JAVITTS, Philip & Tony SPRINGER
Santa Baby
Traditional
Away in a Manger
Anonymous
Carol of the Drum
Traditional
Amazing Grace
Johnny MARKS
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
George MICHAEL
Last Christmas
John LENNON & Yoko ONO
Happy Christmas (War is Over)
Hotaru no Kikari (Melody: Traditional Scottish, Words: Traditional Japanese)
The Swingle Singers/Joanna Forbes – rec. March/April 2004.
SIGNUM SIGCD107 [54:39]

From prefiguring a new release without vocals, let’s end with an older recording that’s all vocal, from The Swingle Singers, recorded in 2004. As with The King’s Singers and The Sixteen, fans will know exactly what to expect; others should tread cautiously, but they may well find themselves becoming fans.

LATE NEWS

Just as I was converting this review to html and proof-reading it, I discovered a recording entitled Alla Napoletana. Performed by L’Arpeggiata and Christina Pluhar, it’s a whole lot of fun, with some lively music jazzed up in arrangements by Pluhar. I have found some of the hyped performances of music of this period by Patricia Kopatchinskaja too over the top (What’s Next Vivaldi, Alpha 624 – review), but I greatly enjoyed this album from L’Arpeggiata, my Fun Recording of the Month if we had such a thing. The point in mentioning it here is that among the fun music, exemplified by the singing fish on the cover, there’s a short, 13½-minute, Nativity cantata by Cristoforo CARESANA – La Veglia: Cantata a 6 voci con violini Per la Nascita di Nostro Signore (1674). It’s followed by a short piece by Sigismondo d’INDIA, Sfere fermate, and a Pastorella, Ogni angelo, again by Caresana, both celebrating the Nativity. ERATO 9029660361 [2 CDs – 1:44:11]



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Recordings of the Month

November


Donizetti - Le Convenienze ed Inconvenienze Teatrali


Chamber Symphonies 2 & 4


French Cello Concertos

 

October


Shostakovich