Christmas Music: A Few of My Favorites

Dec 1, 2016

What's your favorite recording of Christmas music? We've all got them. I'll share a few of mine, and you can share yours in the comment section below! 

If you saunter into our music library here at WOSU Classical 101,  it's easy to be overwhelmed at the sheer volume of material. Original CDs, reissues, new releases, thousands of recordings from plainchant to Xenakis and Wolpe. 

Then there's the Christmas section. We have close to two thousand titles. Everyone from the King's Singers to the East Banana, New Mexico Bell Ringers -don't laugh, they are very good.

There's yet to be a Wagner or Stravinsky Christmas CD, but never say never.

I wander through our collections to bliss out. Then I go back to my office and take down three recordings that have been with me in one guise or another since I was a kid, in the LP era. 

​Leontyne Price Christmas Songs, ​ with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

Who could imagine Karajan as a warm fuzzy under the Christmas tree. Miss Price, that most glorious of voices, must have brought out a comfy side of this austere maestro, as least back in 1960 when this album was recorded. Leontyne Price, soon to  be 90, God love her!-still holds the palm for many as the world's most beautiful voice:

Hear what I mean? When Leontyne Price enters at the second chorus, what sound could ever be more beautiful?

Here's another favorite:

The Boston Camerata's Sing We Noel, from 1978.

It was my ambition form high school to audition successfully for the Boston Camerata. I never did, though I have no doubt those nice people would have let me down easily. As a musician, I've learned to be a relentless fanboy.

When this was recording was new I was living in a student dive apartment on Gardner Street in Allston, Massachusetts. Across the hall were three pilots from Air Nigeria. They were very good about offers to join the parties, invitations a tad intimidating. But they loved this recording! Including the first cut, Nowell, Nowell, out of your slepe aryse! 

I love the music, the performances, the engineering, and the memory of my jolly neighbors. The entire recording is wonderful on Sing We Noel, Christmas Music from England and Early America.

Handel's Messiah with the English Chamber Orchestra and the Ambrosian Chorus, 1970

How many recordings of Messiah do you own? My sentimental favorite doesn't turn up much on the lists. You always find Colin Davis, Nicolas McGegan, Jeanette Sorrell and Thomas Beecham with his saxophones and tubas. You seldom find the 1970 recording with the English Chamber Orchestra and the Ambrosian Chorus conducted by Richard Bonynge.

Joan Sutherland was the raison d'etre​for this recording, no doubt. I love baritone Tom Krause. The contralto soloist is so horrendous, she's wonderful. The choral singing is a delight:

And when Dame Joan Sutherland sings Rejoice Greatly, o Daughter of Zion you'd better believe it: