Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My ten fave Christmas albums

Christmas is by far my favourite time of the year. Oh, sure, there are no white Christmases for me now that I live in Southwest Florida. And yes, Christmas happens to be only the third-most important Christian religious day of observance (Easter and Epiphany are first and second, respectively)... but everyone loves a birthday party, especially when everyone BUT the birthday boy gets gifts! And so, every year, for as long as I can remember, the family and I go crazy with Christmas music from Christmas Eve until Epiphany. Throughout the years, I've ended up with quite a few personal favourites. In honour of Christmas, then, here are my "Top Ten Christmas Albums."

The only rule: the albums must be easily available, so that if the fancy strikes you, you're not stuck special-ordering a long-lost import from Poland for upwards of $75 like I did for Mozart's last 6 symphonies with Chrissy VD and the Cleveland Orchestra (well worth it, by the way). And since the spirit o'Christmas dictates that I not be my usual lazy, uncaring self, I've added amazon.com links for each of the albums.

Boogie Woogie Christmas (The Brian Setzer Orchestra)

A very tough choice over Setzer's other groovy Christmas album, Dig That Crazy Christmas, but I went with "Boogie Woogie" solely on the strength of Setzer's phenomenal, infectiously snappy version of "Jingle Bells."

Christmas Spirit (Donna Summer)

Yes, Disco Donna. Never mind the crappy days of disco and their inevitable downfall -- Summer could always sing, and she really shines in this selection of Christmas songs. I can still remember watching her belt out "O Holy Night" live on an old 80's music show called "Solid Gold." Just awe-inspiring.

Jesus Christ Superstar: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album (Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer)

I went to see this movie at the theatre when I was a little kid, I've owned LP, cassette, CD, and DVD versions of it, and was lucky enough to see a live revival with the original motion picture cast at the Blossom Music Festival back in the early 90's. The only goal left for me to accomplish with this musical is to actually take part in some local production of it. I know this bad boy by heart from start to finish, so any measly part will do...

Little Drummer Boy: Christmas Favourites by the World Renowned Vienna Boys' Choir

Very solid selection of songs, beautifully sung by Michael Jackson's fave musical act.

Messiah (George Frideric Handel, composer) -- Battle, Quivar, Aler, Ramey, soloists; The Toronto Symphony, Andrew Davis, conductor

This is but one of many excellent versions of Handel's Messiah. What sets it apart is Samuel Ramey's phenomenal rendition of "The Trumpet Shall Sound."

Rejoice, O Indestructible Fortress and Stronghold of Orthodoxy

A plethora of lovely Russian sacred songs... and the best album title ever.

Donadzar: New Year's and Christmas Songs in Armenian for Children and their Families (Nvair Kadian Beylerian)

And so, we segue from an imposing, regal album title to an awkward, goofy album title that's eerily reminiscent of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. But to hell with the Russkies. The Armenian Orthodox Apostolic Religion has the distinction of being the first nationally accepted and instituted Christian religion (301 AD -- read it and weep, bitches). As for the music in this album, it's a charming mix of traditional Armenian and Western European Christmas songs.

Classical Christmas (The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)

Wonderful orchestral arrangements of many well-known Christmas classics, as well as some truly classical and grossly overlooked compositions, including my personal fave, Mozart's indescribably joyful "Sleigh Ride."

O Holy Night (Luciano Pavarotti)

Christmas 1981 was a memorable affair for me, and not because it was my first Christmas in the States, but because it was the first time I saw Luciano Pavarotti's epoch-making Christmas concert from the Notre Dame Cathedral (thank you, PBS!!!). Although no audio recordings of that live performance exist, at least to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge, Decca did get studio recordings of most of those Christmas and Sacred Oratorio songs, as well as some bizarre out-of-place selections ("Chè farò senza Euridice," while an absolutely wonderful aria, has absolutely zero bearing on Christmas). The album is solid from start to finish, and was thankfully recorded during Pavarotti's prime. In my humble opinion, no one has ever sung Schubert's "Ave Maria" and "Mille cherubini in coro" as well as the late Luciano. The requiem pieces are also noteworthy: Verdi's "Ingemisco" showcases Pavarotti's resplendent upper register, and Rossini's "Cujus animam" is capped off by a ringing high D. But for me, the highlight of the program is Pavarotti's sublime rendition of Alessandro Stradella's beautiful "Pietà, Signore."

Joy to the World (Joan Sutherland)

As phenomenal as Pavarotti's "O Holy Night" is, it comes in second to La Stupenda's astounding "Joy to the World." I haven't superlatives enough to describe this album, so I won't bother. The only negative, at least for me, is the fact that, as was the case throughout her entire singing career, Sutherland didn't exactly go to great lengths to enunciate every word clearly... but who gives a tin shit about diction when, with all apologies to Handel, the bright seraphim blows its loud, uplifted trumpet?

Merry Christmas, all !!!

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