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

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Carla Bley Carla Christmas Carols Watt/35 – ECM Records B0013428-02

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Jazz great Carla Bley doesn’t travel too far from the manger in this oft-intriguing Christmas recording that’s rich in classics. Playing piano and celeste to Steve Swallow’s bass and chimes, and The Partyka Brass Quintet’s winds, chimes, and glockenspiel, Bley’s extremely mellow musicianship isn’t likely to upset Pastor Pratt. But it will put a smile on your face. Especially intriguing is the two-part rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, the first almost easy listening, the second a jazz take in which Bley and her helpers swing a major ]step away from the melody line. Nothing gets raucous, although Bley’s own composition, “Hell’s Bells,” could arouse the ire of your devout Auntie Mae. (Auntie Mame would love it). Thankfully, her “Jesus Maria” is mellow enough to prevent some from yelling same, and the final, live cut of “Joy to the World” deserving of applause.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Carols by Candlelight The Choir of Magdalen College, OxfordHarmonia Mundi HMU 907495

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Reverence is the byword on this beautifully recorded performance of an authentic English choir of men and boys. These folks and their predecessors have been processing down the aisles of Magdalen College Chapel daily for over five centuries. Their authenticity has recently landed them parts in Richard Attenborough’s movie, Shadowlands, and the London premiere of Paul McCartney’s Ecco Cor Meum. The boys lend a chaste naïveté to compositions such as Britten’s “A Hymn to the Virgin,” and the beauteous blend on the classic “In dulci jubilo” and Mendelssohn’s “Hark! The herald angels sing” is irresistible. John Gardner’s swinging “Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day,” sung with delicious English accents, is a welcome change of pace from the other fare. As expected, Harmonia Mundi excels in capturing the natural resonance of a church environment.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

The Hot Club of San Francisco Hot Club Cool YuleAzica Records ADJ-72242

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“I like it,” says the husband. “Yippee!” says the spouse. “Woof” says Daisy Mae Doven, our adorable half Jack Russell Terrier. That’s tantamount to universal acclaim for this great album. Starting off with Steve Allen’s “Cool Yule,” which scored a hit for Louis Armstrong before many of us were born, the Hot Club quintet goes to town. Emulating and updating the sound of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, the boys from Oz revisit Vince Guaraldi’s arrangement of a traditional Ukranian melody, Ellington and Strayhorn’s cherry-tinted version of Tchaikovsky’s “Sugar Plum Fairy,” Victor Herbert’s “March of the Toys,” Mel Tormé and Bob Wells’ “The Christmas Song,” and other classics. “I Wonder as I Wander” is surprisingly slow and touching, but most of the other fare swings lively. The final “Auld Lang Syne” is a kicker.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Deuter Celebration of LightNew Earth NE 2905

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One of the finest New Age artists on the planet, Santa Fe-based multi-instrumentalist and composer Deuter mixes 12 mostly familiar songs from the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries with one of his own lovely, heart-touching compositions. The presentation is simple, the instruments mostly acoustic, and the feeling one of deep and abiding peace and contentment. C. Drobeck (I guess we don’t use first names here) of the Sante Fe Symphony contributes silver flute and (with Deuter) alto flute and recorders. Chandra plays French horn, and Deuter does the rest. Just lovely.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

John Black O TannenbaumJackpine 01003

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A sweet collection of traditional Christmas songs performed on acoustic guitar. John Black may not display the virtuosity of a Segovia or John Williams, but the simplicity of his arrangements and the sonorous sound of his guitar are just fine. Some tunes from England, Ireland, and France are not exactly commonplace, lending variety to the more familiar. While the classics include a rather mundane rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Adeste Fideles” has a winning smile.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Canadian Brass Sweet Songs of ChristmasOpening Day ODR 7328

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Overlooked all these years in my holiday surveys are recordings from the perennial Canadian Brass. The arrangements on this CD, including several by Luther Henderson, are as familiar as the brass’ sound. And, wonder be, there are even three Chanukah songs, including a “Dreydl” that will have Members of the Tribe spinning (in a good way). Christopher Dedrick’s “Jingle Bell Rock” is lots of fun. While the three arrangements from Handel’s Messiah are quite a bit different than what G.F. envisioned, he’d certainly be delighted by the universality of his masterwork. The Yamaha 24-karat gold-platted instruments aren’t as ubiquitous as Messiah, but either is the brass’ golden, surprisingly warm and mellow sound.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Canadian Brass Christmas Tradition – Music for Brass and OrganOpening Day ODR 7345

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By 2007, when this disc was recorded at the urging of ArkivMusic.com’s Feidner brothers, the Canadian Brass had welcomed a woman trumpeter into their fold. On this recording, they turned to organist and composer Eric Robertson, who added to their sonorous mix the newly restored, historic Casavant organ of Toronto’s Rosedale United Church. The results are as rich in musicality are they are in joy.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Young People’s Chorus of New York City Coolside of YuletideVital Records VR 2018

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This lovely disc features a chorus of young and recently matured voices singing very sweet arrangements by artistic director and founder Francisco J. Núñez, often composed in conjunction with Jim Papoulis. American Idol finalist Phil Stacey sings wonderfully on “Where Are My Angels,” and Rosanne Cash joins the New Yorkers and a Global Choir of thousands from around the world for “How Many Christmases.” Sometimes unaccompanied, sometimes backed by acoustic instruments, the chorus sings wonderfully. I’m giving this sweet disc to my little nephews, in hopes they’ll sing as well as these choristers when they grow up.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge A Festival of Nine Lessons & CarolsEMI Classics 50999 6 86082 2 4

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A two-disc live recording of the complete 2008 Christmas Eve presentation in the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge that was broadcast live on BBC radio. The service mixes carols and hymns with nine spoken lessons and prayers by various religious and secular personnel. The singing is especially fetching for its sincerity, and the extreme reverberation and natural time delay when the congregation joins in lends a “you are there” feel. Some melodies are traditional, others written in the 20th century. Fear not Mary, for thou hath found favor in the eyes of God.

December CD Reviews - Holiday Recordings to Savor

In Terra Pax A Christmas AnthologyNaxos 8.572102

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This new, extremely beautiful performance from the City of London Choir and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra has a welcome freshness that I find irresistible. The music, by Holst, Joubert, Mathias, Howells, Finzi, Warlock, Leighton, Rutter, Gardner, and Vaughan Williams, is all 20th century English. Soprano Julia Doyle and baritone Roderick Williams make welcome appearances on a disc that wafts a breath of fresh air on centuries of English tradition. The warmth and clarity of this fine recording have won me over.