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      December 14, 2011

      The Best Christmas Recordings of 2011

      Ceremony of Carols
      Etherea Vocal Ensemble / Derek Greten-Harrison
      Delos DE-3422

      The singers of the Etherea Ensemble and their director Derek Greten-Harrison specialize in the performance of choral works for treble voices. Accompanied by harpist Grace Cloutier, they present an ethereal reading of Britten’s beloved Christmas cycle, “A Ceremony of Carols,” as well as other favorites of the season.

      A Steinway Christmas Album
      Jeffrey Biegel, piano
      Steinway & Sons 30005

      Jeffrey Biegel’s new recording offers inventive arrangements of carols and jazz and pop standards for Christmas. Some of the most beautiful were crafted by Carolyne Taylor, a composer with whom Biegel worked on his previous Christmas release. The package also includes a Christmas tree ornament of the Steinway logo!

      Christmas with Cantus
      Cantus Recordings CTS-1211

      Based in the Twin Cities, Cantus is acclaimed as one of the best men’s vocal ensembles in the United States. Showcasing the musical versatility of the group, their new Christmas album features timeless holiday pieces from all parts of the Christmas tradition alongside four world premieres.

      A Seraphic Fire Christmas
      Seraphic Fire / Patrick Dupré Quigley
      Seraphic Fire Media SFM-107

      Miami’s celebrated choir performs music associated with the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, the famous Christmas Eve service at King’s College, Cambridge. The album was recently recognized with a Grammy nomination, as was Seraphic Fire’s thrilling new recording of “A German Requiem” by Brahms.

      Come to Bethlehem
      William Ferris Chorale
      WFC Live! 102

      The Chorale’s renowned Christmas programs are captured in this archival collection of seasonal fare, recorded in concert around the Chicago area between 1985 and 2010. With works spanning five centuries, there is something for everyone’s musical tastes on this new recording.

      John Rutter: The Colors of Christmas
      The Bach Choir; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / John Rutter
      Decca B0016092-02

      One of the world’s most popular choral composers and conductors presents an assortment of best-loved Christmas carols in new arrangements and orchestrations. John Rutter is joined by the Bach Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform favorites such as “Joy to the world,” “Silent night,” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

      The Christmas Story
      Theatre of Voices; Ars Nova Copenhagen / Paul Hillier
      Harmonia Mundi HMU-807565

      Inspired by the Nine Lessons and Carols given every Christmas Eve in England, this recording presents the Nativity story told through plainchant, motets, 17th Century dialogues, and traditional folk carols. Paul Hillier leads Theatre of Voices and Ars Nova Copenhagen in music he has culled and arranged from Italian, German, Danish, English, and American sources.

      ‘Tis the Season
      Washington Saxophone Quartet
      Americus Records AMR-20111060

      The Washington Saxophone Quartet has been performing together for 35 years, but this is their first recording of Christmas music. They’ve chosen 21 selections, some of them arranged by Quartet members, for a warm and joyful holiday celebration.

      Wonderland of Christmas
      Orchestra / Andre Kostelanetz
      Sony Classical 96970

      Long before the term “crossover” entered the musical lexicon, Andre Kostelanetz had mastered the genre. In “Wonderland of Christmas,” he updated the seasonal wassail with dazzling orchestral arrangements (including some clever medleys) of Christmas pop tunes. This Sixties holiday mainstay has never been released on CD before.

      Another Night Before Christmas
      Simon Callow, narrator; RTÉ Concert Orchestra; Royal Ballet Sinfonia / Gavin Sutherland
      Naxos 8.572744

      The Christmas net is cast wide in this captivating collection. John Fox has crafted a delightful “Carol Fantasia.” Bryan Kelly’s “Scrooge” is brought to life by esteemed actor Simon Callow, who also narrates Philip Lane’s “Another Night Before Christmas,” an update by Carol Ann Duffy of the classic poem.

      An Appalachian Christmas
      Mark O’Connor, violin; Various artists
      OMAC Records 16

      Composer and violinist Mark O’Connor has released his first holiday album, taking listeners on a journey to the American heartland. “An Appalachian Christmas” features collaborations with artists spanning many musical styles: Renée Fleming, Sharon Isbin, Alison Krauss, Yo-Yo Ma, Jane Monheit, James Taylor, Chris Thile, Steve Wariner and more.

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