New Christmas releases
Reviewed by Arsenio Orteza
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The Christmas Revels
Diego’s Umbrella & Friends
The season’s most earthily festive offering comes courtesy of musicians billing themselves “San Francisco’s ambassadors of gypsy rock,” although they’re more “gypsy” than “rock,” what with fiddles, rudimentary percussion, the Hanukkah tango “Ocho Kandelikas,” the alms-giving round “Christmas Is Coming,” and a lustily sung “Lord of the Dance” making mincemeat of commonplace decorum. Only “Sleigh Ride” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas” fail the revel test. Everything else—the carols, “Auld Lang Syne,” and John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” included—feels freshly and vigorously hewn.
Un Niño Nos Es Naçido
Joel Frederiksen, Ensemble Phoenix Munich
The 19 selections by at least 16 composers (the Anonymouses and questions regarding who composed the infectious “Ríu Ríu Chíu” complicate the math) flesh out the subtitle: Christmas Music of Spain and Latin America from the 16th and 17th centuries. The four-part singing, like the period-faithful instrumentation and the texts, is reverently solemn but not severely so—“Dadme albricias” practically gambols. For that matter, portions of Bartomeu Càrceres’ 10-song medley “La Trulla” (which combines Christological precision with, believe it or not, bunion humor) do too.
Folkjul Ii: A Swedish Folk Christmas
Gunnar Idenstam, Ulrika Boden, Sandra Marteleur, S:t Jacobs Kammarkör
The metaphysically suggestive sonorities of nine of these 17 selections arise from the 28 dynamics-spanning voices of Stockholm’s S:t Jacobs Kammarkör and Gunnar Idenstam’s rumbling Allen Q350 digital organ. The metaphysicality of the changes of pace, whether sprightly or hushed, owes a good deal to the lithe expressiveness of Ulrika Boden’s voice and Sandra Marteleur’s violin. “In dulci jubilo” provides the melody most likely to be recognized by non-Swedes. The full-ensemble rendering of Martin Luther’s “Från himlens höjd” will leave even the garrulous speechless.
Silent Night: Early Christmas Music And Carols
Arianna Savall & Petter Udland Johansen, Hirundo Maris
Hirundo Maris is an early-music/folk-music ensemble co-led by Savall and Johansen, who get top billing because, in addition to playing harps (Savall) and the Hardanger fiddle and mandolin (Johansen), they do the singing (in multiple languages, no less). But while the purity of their voices makes an ideal vessel for lyrics celebrating the virgin birth of Christ, what most evokes the unique mystery of the event is the sounds of their bandmates’ citterns, flutes, whistles, border pipes, mute cornetts, dobros, bells, claves, and ayoyotes.
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