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      December 11, 2013

      The Best Christmas Recordings of 2013


      Advent at Merton

      Choir of Merton College, Oxford

      Delphian DCD-34122

      The beginning of Advent is celebrated with particular solemnity at Merton College. For its second recording, the choir explores the musical riches that adorn this most special time in the church’s year, centering on a newly commissioned sequence of Magnificat antiphons from seven leading composers. The album was recorded in the beautiful environs of Merton College Chapel, which has stood at the heart of the College for almost 750 years.


      Christmas Time Is Here

      Canadian Brass

      Steinway & Sons 30027

      Featuring the music of Vince Guaraldi, Luther Henderson and Brandon Ridenour, ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ pays tribute to some of the most popular animated specials created for the holidays. Founding member Chuck Daellenbach says of the album: “This recording represents a collaborative artistic venture built around a single vision – to create inspiring music for the holiday season.”


      A Child’s Christmas in Bethlehem

      Bach Choir of Bethlehem / Greg Funfgeld

      Analekta AN 2 9886

      “It’s the night before Christmas and all through the world people gather to share stories, poems and music of this wondrous night.” Thus the narrator of ‘A Child’s Christmas in Bethlehem’ draws us into a magical recording that includes carols spanning seven centuries and five languages. Poems and stories take us from Bethlehem in the Holy Land, where we are present at the birth of Jesus as seen through a child’s eyes, to diverse Christmas traditions of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the present day.


      Musical Gifts

      Joshua Bell and Friends

      Sony Masterworks 88883 74318 2

      With ‘Musical Gifts,’ violinist Joshua Bell imagines friends coming to his home during the holidays and joining in on songs that celebrate the warmth, beauty and magic of the season. Bell is paired with a variety of special guests including Gloria Estefan, Alison Krauss, Kristin Chenoweth, Chris Botti, jazz greats Chick Corea and Branford Marsalis, opera stars Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming, Michael Feinstein and a cappella group Straight No Chaser.


      Christmas Throughout the Centuries II

      Various Artists

      Ars Musici 233746 (2 CDs)

      Within the span of two hours, this compilation gives an idea of the complexity of Christmas music-making over 700 years. The double album is a short journey through the ages, illuminating the significance of one of the most important Christian festivals as reflected in music. Various German instrumental and vocal ensembles perform medieval chant, Christmas hymns and popular carols.


      The Nutcracker Suites

      Harmonie Ensemble New York / Steven Richman

      Harmonia Mundi HMU-907493

      Steven Richman and his Harmonie Ensemble New York swing in the holiday season with a twist, pairing Tchaikovsky’s original 1892 Nutcracker Suite with a 1960 jazz adaptation by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The idea for combining the two Nutcrackers came about when trombonist Art Baron, who had played with Duke Ellington, introduced Steven Richman to a 1960 recording of the Nutcracker Suite in the Ellington/Strayhorn arrangement.


      Veni Emmanuel

      Choir of Clare College, Cambridge / Graham Ross

      Harmonia Mundi HMU-907579

      The familiar hymn ‘Veni Emmanuel’ is emblematic of the Advent season – a period of reflection upon the meaning of Christ’s coming. Framing this program by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, directed by Graham Ross, the hymn paraphrases the great ‘O’ Antiphons (plainchant settings traditionally sung on the days leading up to Christmas), complemented here by later works echoing their rich imagery and symbolism.


      Surrounded by Angels

      Ensemble Galilei

      Sono Luminus DSL-92173

      From the opening unison strings of ‘Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence’ to the last note of ‘Silent Night,’ this CD courses with the extraordinary arrangements of Ensemble Galilei, created by musicians whose musical sensibilities have been shaped by their personal histories. The group brings a lively Celtic flair to favorite songs of the season.


      Joy to the World: An American Christmas

      Handel and Haydn Society / Harry Christophers

      Coro COR-16117

      Celebrate Christmas with America’s oldest arts organization, the Handel and Haydn Society, as they explore a fascinating and eclectic selection of festive music from traditional carols using American tunes to Christmas motets by Charles Ives and contemporary American composer James Bassi. Also included are carols by the ‘father of American choral music,’ Bostonian William Billings.


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