December CD Reviews for the Audiophile - Holiday Recordings to Savor - Part I

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

An Esperanza Family Christmas Album Canciones navideñas para la Familia EPZ 1000

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Esperanza, founded by the Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia in 1987, works to “bring a sustained response of hope to the barrio.” To raise funds for their work, they’ve put together this Christmas compilation with performances by Marcos Witt, Alejandro Sanz, Miguel Angel Guerra, Jose Carreras, Santana, and others. Michelle Bonilla sings quite the “O Holy Night.” The sound quality of the transfers leaves something to be desired, but the joy this will bring to its target audience is great.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Hope for the Holidays Rockin’ Christmas for a Cure JDRF

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A charity album that benefits the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, this recording features The Beach Boys, Jon Anderson, and whole bunch of other artists rockin’ in support for children with Type 1 Diabetes. The opening track, “Closing of the Year,” features the Type 1 Children’s Choir as backup. David Cloverdale of Whitesnake recites a cool “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Not the hardest of rock, hence perfect for children and families.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

A Chatman Christmas Choral Music of Stephen Chatman Centredisques CMCCD 15509

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The University of British Columbia Singers, conducted by Bruce Pullan, do an especially fine job performing eminently tuneful music by Canadian composer Stephen Chatman. Occasionally Chatman deviates a bit from classical diatonic harmonies, especially in the almost 20-minute collection, Carols of the Nativity, but most of his music sounds as if it had been written a good half century ago. This is a lovely collection.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Carols for Christmas Original Album Classics 5xCD Sony Music 88697561742

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Welcome to nostalgia land, as Mario Lanza, Placido Domingo, Eileen Farrell, the Robert Shaw Chorale, and Leonard Bernstein (conducting the politically incorrect Mormon Tabernacles with considerable bombast and almost embarrassingly grandiose 3-D Technicolor sound) give their considerable all for the holidays. The sound isn’t always great, but the chance to enjoy the great artists of yesteryear (with the exception of Domingo, who is still singing wonderfully) at a bargain price is impossible to resist. Eileen Farrell had one of the great voices of the 20th century, and she’s caught here near her considerable prime.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

The Joy of Christmas The Joy of Christmas 5xCD Sony Music 88697561732

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Sony’s companion Original Album Classics, mixes albums from the great Marilyn Horne, Boston Pops, Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, and Philadelphia Orchestra, with – this is special – the original NBC Telecast of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors.

THE MESSIAH CORNER

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Handel’s Messiah Rocks A Joyful Noise Sony Classical - Integrity Music 88697 50243 2

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I’m not sure about musical integrity, but this somewhat predictable, raucously mixed Messiah, cheapened by the horribly compressed sound that is taking the life out of pop music, features the pretty fabulous, albeit predictable voices of MiG Ayesa, LaChanze, and J. Robert Spencer. It’s also on DVD, in a full concert performance featuring members of the Boston Pops led by Keith Lockhart. Those who have ears, let them still be able to hearm should they mistakenly crank up the volume through their earbuds.

For traditional Messiahs, we amazingly have three new or almost new 2-CD sets to choose from this year:

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Handel Messiah • King’s College Cambridge & The Academy of Ancient Music EMI Classics 50999 2 68156 2 6

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The booklet doesn’t identify which version of the Messiah is being sung, but I think it’s probably from 1742 or thereabouts. Stephen Cleobury’s chorus is comprised of maybe 30 men and boys who can’t always be heard clearly over the orchestra. Tenor Allan Clayton is too stentorian for my taste, but bass Matthew Rose has a fine voice that could shake a nation. Rose replaces the usual mezzo in “But who shall abide the day of his coming.” Mezzo Alice Coote sounds quintessentially British in her proclamations, and soprano Allish Tynan seems to get lost in her not always sweet, occasionally tremulous rejoicing. Not a first choice.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Handel Messiah • Dunedin Consort & Players Linn CKD 285

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John Butt’s exceptional ensemble performs the 1742 Dublin version. The SACD and optional multi-channel DSD sonics have already made this 2006 release, which has been missing from my surveys until now, an audiophile classic. Especially exciting is the availability of a high-resolution (88.2 kHz/24-bit) download via the linnrecords.com website. The especially lovely chorus is comprised of only 13 voices, yet carries wonderfully over the orchestra. Director John Butt uses two contraltos as well as the usual soprano, tenor, and bass. Tenor Nicholas Mulroy is quite fine, bass Matthew Brook a little less polished than some, contraltos Annie Gill and Claire Wilkinson refreshingly uncontrived and unplummy, and soprano Susan Hamilton a joy in her simplicity. Hamilton’s “Rejoice greatly…” demonstrates Handel’s first thoughts on his beloved aria. Performed with a plethora of tasteful embellishments, this fascinating performance is a keeper.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Handel Messiah • Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia Hyperion CDA 67800

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Directed by Stephen Layton, these forces perform a slightly modified variant of Handel’s almost final 1750 version. Instead of a contralto we have the extremely fine countertenor Iestyn Davies; the pastoral simplicity of his “He shall feed his flock” is quite fetching. The 31-voiced Polyphony sings fabulously, as do bass Andrew Foster-Williams and, in better voice than for Cleobury, tenor Allan Clayton. Soprano Julia Doyle is especially pure in her higher range. This is an important and extremely enjoyable addition to the volumes of Messiahs already on the shelves.