Sunday, December 17, 2006

That Favorite Christmas Music Thread

Posted by olvlzl.

My favorite recorded Christmas music is Odetta’s Christmas Spirituals*. Odetta is incomparable, no news there, and this album is deep and rich and simple all at once. Virgin Mary had a Son, the first song sets the tone. This isn’t going to be a porcelain manger scene with a high fire finish, it’s going to be about life. A call, “Leave your sheep and leave your rams. Rise up Shepherd and follow,” and a charge to action, “Go Where I Send Thee,”.

Made at the height of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s the themes of freedom and responsibility are highlighted among the familiar details of the story. Odetta and Bill Lee created an album for the ages.

I’ve mentioned the Christmas music of Marc Antoine Charpentier, a French baroque composer. I don’t think my favorite, ravishingly beautiful, recording of his Midnight Mass by Les Arts Flourissants is available just now but a new recording of it is available on Naxos. I haven’t heard it so am unable to give details. Chapentier’s Pastorale** and his other Christmas music is all a refreshing change from the ususal Anglo-Germanic fare.

Another old album, The Holly Bears The Crown by The Young Tradition is one that is too hard to find but which is good if you can. Jean Ritchie’s Carols for All Seasons*** combines her traditional Appalachian soprano with a harpsichord and recorder played in best 1950s style. The several songs she sings with her dulcimer and without accompaniment are the best ones on the album.

A Music Box Christmas****, 19th century Christmas music played on period music boxes is another one which doesn’t seem to get old despite listening to it through LP, cassette and now CD.

* Christmas Spirituals Vanguard 79079-2
** M. A. Chapentier Pastorale Harmonia Mundi HMC 901082. Also try Marc Antoine Charpentier Antienne “O” de ‘Avent HMA 1905124, included is a Christmas cantata and several Noels. Both recordings are with Les Arts Flourissants conducted by William Christie
*** Carols for All Seasons Tradition TCD 1058
**** A Music Box Christmas Columbia CK 8498