Musical Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year to you and yours with some of these new Christmas recordings out in time for the holidays.
The Choirs of St. James United Church in Toronto perform with enormous holiday spirit in Love Came Down at Christmas. The ethereal angelic opening track O Come All Ye Faithful has the choir in superb form. From carols to more secular songs like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the choir and Music Director Clive R. Dunstan have assembled the perfect mix of repertoire with an eclectic mix of organ, piano and flute accompaniment. Some high notes need to be tweaked but high marks for an excellent recording. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the church at 416-622-4113 to purchase the disc.
Maria Dolnycky's Lullaby for a Snowy Night (www.mariadolnycky.com) features piano performances of holiday music from around the world. All is well played, perhaps a bit too percussive at spots, but well worth a listen, especially for Dolnycky’s intriguing take on Bela Bartok's Romanian Carols, and her touching rendition of Pietro Mascagni's Christmas Pipe Tune.
I knew that Toronto-based baritone Bruno Cormier (www.brunocormier.com) is a very fine singer in the operatic genre. A huge Christmas present surprise for me was finding that he is also an accomplished composer. His L'arrivée du Christ is a slightly atonal yet lyrical tradition-based six part song cycle. It is the highlight of the CD Dans le silence de la nuit, a collection of French Christmas songs arranged by Bruno, and performed by him and his sister, mezzo-soprano Aurélie Cormier. This is a very professional and musically moving release. Both singers have the soul and the technique to dazzle, and are accompanied by a tight instrumental ensemble.
The Canadian Music Centre (www.musiccentre.ca) has another Christmas star with A Chatman Christmas (Centrediscs CMCCD 15509), a collection of holiday choral music by UBC professor Stephen Chatman. Chatman's original works and arrangements of classics feature traditional harmonies with a fluid tonality, all astutely performed in this “composer-supervised recording” by the University of British Columbia Singers conducted by Bruce Pullan, with a number of special guests. Make sure to hear Jumalisten joucko, with medieval drummer Quennie Wong. This is a memorable and very idiosyncratic Christmas song.
Jakub Jan Ryba's Czech Christmas Mass (Archiv Produktion 477 8365) features mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozenà in this re-release of a 1998 recording. Ryba (affectionately known as “Hey, Mister” after the mass' opening line) wrote this Czech language masterwork in 1796. A holiday tradition to this day, the charming sound is so very much in the style of the music of the time. The childlike innocence that we all associate with Christmas is perfectly captured in both words and music as the humour and loving story of Czech shepherds at the manger unfolds. Great performances by the Capella Regia Musicalis under Robert Hugo too.
Finally, what would Christmas be without Luciano Pavarotti singing O Holy Night, Joan Sutherland’s Joy To The World or Renati Tebaldi’s take on Schubert's Ave Maria? The two CD compilation Christmas Voices: The World's Greatest Voices, The Essential Sacred Songs (Decca 478 2093) give us these and other famous voices in timeless performances that will keep you in the holiday spirit for generations to come!