Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Christmas Confession

On Saturdays, I usually make pancakes for family breakfast. (If you have the misfortune to normally make pancakes from a mix, try switching to doing it from scratch -- it only takes five minutes longer and is infinitely better.) A couple weeks back, I must confess, I pulled up iTunes and put the Christmas category on shuffle. Yes, it wasn't even Advent yet, and I had Christmas music on. I am part of the problem. For all of the "time of waiting", I for one never make much of an effort to keep the Christmas music off until the twelve days themselves.

However, I've often found that when I say, "Christmas Music" I'm not talking about what others are talking about. Last year when I mentioned liking "traditional carols" to a co-worker, she replied: "Yeah, I like some of the newer stuff, but those Perry Como and Bing Crosby songs are really good too."

Ummm... Not so much.

So here's a sampling of some of the Darwin Christmas favorites.

Unfortunately, one of my favorite Christmas CDs is currently out of print so far as I can tell, it's called A Victorian Christmas and features the only version of Jingle Bells (as it calls it "The One Horse Open Sleigh") that I've ever liked. It looks like there might be some used copies here, but as it's been OP for a while, I can't swear they're categorized correctly. Also great on this CD is "I Saw Three Ships", "The Seven Joys of Mary" and the "Wassail Song".

Another favorite that I grew up with was: Sing We Noel: Christmas Music from England & Early America Especially good on this one are "Nowel, Owt of Your Slepe", "Nova, Nova; Aue fitt ex Eva", "While Shepherds Watched" and "Lullay, Thou Tiny Little Child".

A lot of my early Christmas memories center around going to the annual Christmas Star show at Griffith Observatory, where my father was a planetarium lecturer. Several of Eugene Ormandy's exuberant orchestrations of Christmas carols were on the soundtrack there year after year, which eventually led me to track down and buy a couple of Ormandy Christmas CD's. Joy to the World features a great "Carol of the Bells" and Greatest Christmas Hits of the Philadelphia Orchestra has a splendid "We Three Kings". Between the two, there are also great versions of pretty much all the standards, some strictly orchestral, some orchestral with chorus. When it comes to no-hold-barred full orchesta christmas music, you don't get much better than Ormandy's stuff.

Speaking of great versions of standard carols, another great album is Christmas Star, Carols for the Christmas Season by the Cambridge Singers. This is simply as good as it gets for most traditional carols that you want to hear sung by a large corale, though the english voices can get a bit odd when they attempt something like "Go, Tell it on the Mountain". Still, this is great for "Silent Night", "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" or "Joy to the World".

Getting back into the carols which are no longer heard, two great collections of historical Christmas music are:A Baroque Christmas, by the New York Ensemble for Early Music and A Medieval Christmas, by the Boston Camerata The latter opens with a medieval Jewish setting of Isaiah's prophesy of the coming messiah in Hebrew, and then moves through a series of alternating readings and medieval music (chant, polyphany, and accompanied styles not so often found in mass settings, but common in popular music from the time).


Jay Anderson said...

All the Boston Camerata Christmas stuff is good. My favorite of theirs is "An American Christmas" - mostly shape-note hymnody from early America. Another good one is "Bright Day Star" from The Baltimore Consort.

Also recommended:
"Tydings Trew" by Lionheart
"On Yoolis Night" by Anonymous 4
"A Waverly Consort Christmas - Christmas from East Anglia to Appalachia" by The Waverly Consort

Rick Lugari said...

No Father Christmas by the Kinks?

I'm disappointed...

Bernard Brandt said...

If I may recommend, you may want to hear "Hodie: A Christmas Cantata-", by Ralph Vaughn Williams. It is my personal high water mark as regards good christmas music.

jnewl said...

I don't know about full albums--my tastes vary with time--but Pavarotti's O Holy Night will never be equalled.

barbfromcincy said...

My hubby does the Saturday pancake thing too...
And I'm the one who turns on the Christmas music....I can see you like what I call "real Christmas music",not the "fake" stuff they have on the radio. Not that I mind listening to some of that every once in a while, but there is nothing so beautiful as "real" Christmas music. I'll have to try to get some of the CD's you mention.
A blessed day to all of the Darwins..

Anonymous said...

I also have On Yoolis Night and it got pulled out and played during Sunday breakfast yesterday.

It's likely out of print now, but Anne Hills and a number of musicians put together a mix of songs and instrumentals On This Day Earth Shall Ring, which I was fortunate enough to find on vinyl. The highlight for me was her arrangement of "I Wonder As I Wander."

Windham Hill's Winter Solstice series has lots of good seasonal instrumentals.

I used to enjoy my wife's tape of Haas and Cotter's Winter Grace. The Cotter piano arrangements are superior, both well-known and original music.


Rebekka said...

Thanks for these recommendations. I live abroad and have been missing english-language christmas music (that is NOT "last christmas I gave you my heart...") So as soon as I'd read this I hit iTunes and managed to find the Christmas Star one, which I like very much.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Ella Fitzgerald has two Christmaas albums, one religious/traditional, one secular: Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas. The latter is much superior, and I listen to it through the "secular Christmas season" (aka Advent).

I wouldn't call it "fake Christmas music": it's great holiday party music, which happens to coincide with a season called "Christmas."