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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 4, No. 4 Dťcembre 1998 / Janvier 1999
E-mail: | Web: (c) La Scena Musicale 1998
Christmas Music / Musique Pour NoŽl
Once as I remember
John Eliot Gardiner / Monteverdi Choir
Philips 289-462-050-2

Maestro Sir John Eliot Gardiner gets nostalgic, recreating the Hardyesque musical atmosphere of the annual Christmas nativity play held in his childhood home in Dorset, England. It helps to know that Gardiner’s family were fabulously rich owners of huge rural estates, a fact not mentioned in the mawkish liner notes. At Christmas the neighbours would gather to watch the children act out nativity scenes, followed by choral singing. The singing on this disc is as exquisite as it is varied, including Latin motets, plainsong, madrigals, and traditional English, German and Basque carols.

Telemann : St. Mark Passion / Magnificat
Kurt Redel / Pro Arte Orchestra
Philips DUO 462-293-2

Telemann’s St. Mark Passion is a wonderful discovery, full of catchy tunes, beautiful arias and great choruses. This generally fine recording from 1963-64, has great recorded sound. The Choeur des Jeunes de Lausanne and the orchestra are admirable, with a good soprano and tenor but shaky baritones.

The Greatest Christmas Show on Earth
London 460-400-2

This modestly titled 2-CD album is a kitschy pot-pourri of Xmassy tracks from the London catalogue, including lots of miscellaneous choir music and the often macabre crossover efforts of Pavarotti, Leontyne Price, Renata Tebaldi and Joan Sutherland.

A Baroque Christmas
The Baroque Players of Hamilton
ATMA ACD 22174

A cute and mellow collection of English, French and German Christmas carols, sung by soprano Carolyn Sinclair, backed up a baroque quartet of flute / recorder, violin, cello and harpsichord. Sinclair sings with honest feeling in a clear churchy soprano, pleasant but slightly harsh at the top. The Baroque Players have a crisp sense of style and phrasing. Notes in French and English.

Pastorales de NoŽl
Rita Costanzi, harp (Skylark 9400CD)

Christmas carols arranged for harp is a novel idea. Rita Costanzi, until recently principal harpist of the Vancouver Symphony, plays this traditional program (including her own arrangements) with taste and delicacy. Four of these numbers were commissioned from University of Victoria Professor Ian McDougall for this CD. If you like tranquilizing background music, this is for you.

Per la Notte di natale : Concertos and Cantatas for Christmas
Simon Standage / Collegium Musicum 90 (Chaconne Chandos CHAN 0634)

This is an engaging album of renaissance Christmas music for large chamber orchestra (20 musicians). The program - concertos by Corelli, Vivaldi and Manfredini and cantatas by Scarlatti and Telemann - are of only middling musical interest . Soprano Susan Gritton is okay, Standage’s band play well, and the recorded sound is good.

Carols from the Old and New Worlds (Vol. 2)
Paul Hillier / Pro Arte Singers
harmonia mundi HMU 907233

Paul Hillier, best known as the leader of Theatre of Voices, leads the Pro Arte Singers (choir in residence at the Early Music Institute, Bloomington) in his second album of English-language carols and hymns. Stylistically Hillier includes something for everyone : 22 English and American unaccompanied carols dating from the 15th-century to the 19th-century, including the lively Coventry Shepherds Carol, rurual English hymns, shape-note singing (reminiscent of Acadian / Maritime folk music) and New England Puritan and Shaker hymns. The emotional impact of these spare, Puritanical verses is maximized by the ethereally beautiful sound produced by the Pro Arte Singers. Choral buffs will want this album, though one can certainly weary of this non-stop, a capella optimism.


(c) La Scena Musicale 1999