Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Some Christmas Music Recommendations

I'm a music and stereo nut. More about stereos and speakers later, but with Christmas fast approaching, here is a short list of great Christmas music.

Handel, Messiah -- I know, I know, you already have it, but how can you discuss Christmas music without mentioning the Messiah? Without going on at tedious length, my favorites remain Pinnock (DG) and the politically incorrect Beecham/Goosens (RCA). I have not heard a lot of the newer stuff (e.g., McCreesh, Christie, Suzuki). I’d be interested in hearing what others think of these versions.

Bach -- Although I do like and play the Christmas Oratorio (generally Gardiner, DG), if I want Bach around the holidays, I tend to pick out cantatas, even though they may not be season-specific, and in particular cantatas from the complete 1970’s Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series (Teldec). These versions are admittedly an acquired taste, but I love them. Both the instruments and vocals are sometimes a bit rough, but Harnoncourt uses boys for the soprano parts (as Bach would have) and the effect is wonderful. The discs are sold these days (I believe) only in 6-disc boxes. If you can find it, my recommendation would be Volume 3. Since that seems to be currently unavailable, go for Volume 2.

“A Venetian Christmas” – Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli Consort (DG). This disc, featuring music by Giovanni Gabrieli (and others), recreates a Christmas Mass in St. Mark’s in Venice circa 1600. I have not heard a bad disc by McCreesh.

“Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning” – Another Paul McCreesh project (DG), this disc features music by Michael Praetorius to recreate a German Christmas mass circa 1620.

“On Yoolis Night”, Anonymous Four – You may have heard of this one; it garnered much praise when it came out, all deserved. Four women singing motets and songs a capella. Gorgeous and hypnotic.

Olivier Messiaen – 20 Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus (Austbo, Naxos) – At Naxos prices, you get a fantastic recording of one of the great piano works of the 20th Century. [If you like this, get Austbo’s other Messiaen piano works on Naxos.]

“A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector” – I got this disc as part of the 4-disc Phil Spector “Back to Mono” box, but it seems to be available separately. Darlene Love, the Ronettes, et al., singing “White Christmas”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, etc. complete with that wonderful “wall of sound”.

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