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Yuletide selections

MUSIC | Reviews of four Christmas albums


Yuletide selections
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Cappricio Pastorale 

Capella de la Torre, Katharina Baüml

The subtitle, Christmas Music from Renaissance Italy, tells you what to expect: sounds made by alto shawm, recorder, sackbut, bass curtal, organ, percussion, and theorbo; vibrato-free singing by two sopranos and a tenor; sacred lyrics in Italian (with German and English translations in the booklet); and melodies akin to those used in period-faithful pro­ductions of Romeo and Juliet. Of the nine composers (assuming, that is, that the seven identified as “Anonymous” are the same fellow), only Frescobaldi, who provides the title cut, is remotely familiar. Five pieces have gone unrecorded until now—in other words, for approximately 600 years. They were worth the wait.


The Nutcracker Suite 

Chineke! Orchestra

In the first episode of the 1995 PBS miniseries Marsalis on Music, Wynton Marsalis and his jazz combo performed Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn arrangements of Nutcracker excerpts while a Seiji Ozawa–conducted orchestra performed them Tchaikovsky style. Now, this “[b]lack and ethnically diverse” youth orchestra unites the two, enhancing five Ellington-Strayhorn–arranged movements with strings—the same five, incidentally, that lead off UMG’s new digital compilation A Night with Duke Ellington should you choose to compare.


Morning Star 

The Gesualdo Six, Owain Park

The Feast of the Epiphany provides this album’s raison d’être, with the Magi’s arrival serving as the basis for 10 selections, the presentation of Jesus in the Temple one, and less event-specific references to God’s becoming man the others. The texts (mostly English and Latin) come from sources old when not ancient (Scripture, liturgies, prayers, poems), the settings from composers ranging from Byrd to Pärt. The four-part, all-male a cappella singing honors the awe-inspiring nature of the feast by inspiring an awe of its own.


Christmas Harmonies

Aled Jones & Russell Watson

The tenors Aled Jones and Russell Watson released 12 of these tracks last year as Christmas with Aled & Russell. And if you liked those, you’ll like the seven that they’ve added for 2023. “Christmas Medley” is somewhat redundant (“In the Bleak Midwinter” and “O Holy Night” appear individually earlier on), but the other six (“The Lord Is My Shepherd,” “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Silent Night,” and the two non-Schubert “Ave Maria”) give bonus cuts a good name.


Encore

When it comes to Christmas music, nothing bridges the gap between the lowest rung of the high-brow ladder and the highest rung of the low-brow ladder like Windham Hill/Legacy’s Windham Hill Christmas Collection. Drawing on the Windham Hill label’s vast storehouse of crystalline seasonal recordings, the 4½-hour, digital-only release compiles 71 selections—almost every one a sacred favorite—and provides a vista-­like overview of the label’s better-known and lesser-­known artists in the process.

In the former category are the acoustic guitarists Will Ackerman, Alex De Grassi, and Michael Hedges; the ­pianists Liz Story and Jim Brickman; and the multi-­instrumentalist and Oregon founding member Paul McCandless. In the latter are the guitarists Steve Erquiaga and Tuck Andress, the harpist Áine Minogue, and the Celtic-jazz ensemble Nightnoise. That none of them inflict their personalities on the material would be a weakness in most genres. Christmas music is an exception. —A.O.


Arsenio Orteza

Arsenio is a music reviewer for WORLD Magazine and one of its original contributors from 1986. Arsenio resides in China.

@ArsenioOrteza

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