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Customer Review

on November 23, 2012
I had pretty low expectations, given the price. For their genre, each track is good, but if you think Christmas music was invented sometime last century and is only in English, as one of the other reviewers does, you'll be disappointed. "Santa Baby" it's not. If you want your Christmas music less baby boomer saccharine sweet and more rooted in the past millennium of Christian tradition, then read on. Each sub-album is worth a short review of its own:

1) (#1-26) Canterbury Choristers/Bornand Music Box: The choir gives a fine performance of a number of classic carols. I wasn't a huge fan of the music box, my wife, even less so. I've deselected them in my player.

2) (#27-51, 95-114, 173-189) Deller, et al: Full disclosure - I wrote my undergrad thesis on the decline of the countertenor voice. I sang first tenor in a men's glee club. I think the revival of the countertenor voice (started in large part by Deller) and historically informed performances more broadly are great things. If you think a male alto is cringe-worthy, some of these tracks are not for you. Most of them are ensemble pieces, some of them do feature Deller. Many of the works performed are Medieval, Renaissance or early Baroque, which is not exactly "A Holly Jolly Christmas" toe tapper. Having said that and my preferences not being exactly the center of the bell curve, I liked the Deller Consort performances a good deal.

#3) (#52-62) Martha Schlamme: Solo contralto performance of classic French Christmas carols. Nice tone, decent recording quality.

#4) (#63-80) Erich Kunz, Mozartsangerknaben et al: Traditional German language Christmas music, mostly choral with soli. Good performance, good recording.

#5) (#81-94) Cathedral of St. John the Divine Cathedral Choir. Warm sounding, big choir performances of classic English language carols with organ backing. Perhaps the most accessible recording on the collection. Good performance, good recording.

#6) (#115-122) I Soloisti di Zagreb & Antonio Janigro: The Corelli Christmas Concerto (#115) is wonderful, with lovely Baroque balance. The three Bach Chorales, all performed instrumentally, are also very nice. The Haydn/Leopold Mozart (authorship is in doubt) Toy Symphony is a bit harder to listen to, and earned the wife's playlist veto. The Corelli Pastoral Symphony (122) returns of the balanced sound of the Christmas Concerto. This recording was from a 1960 recording, which was reviewed as follows in Gramophone magazine at the time:

"Antonio Janigro's Zagreb group play this "Eighteenth Century Concert" quite neatly and stylishly, though the real hero of the Italian pieces is undoubtedly Anton Heiller, the organist and harpsichord player who has often been heard in London's Royal Festival Hall. It so happened that these items were recorded in Vienna, Heiller's home town, and he was brought along to play continuo. His very musical and imaginative realization of the figured basses is a joy to the ear, and although he is a composer of note it is pleasant to confirm that he does not "compose" his realizations in a manner that makes his contribution obtrusive or over-emphasized; indeed one is so wrapped up in the music that Heiller's fine playing only makes itself felt after the event--a real tribute to his musicianship.
Collectors who want two "Christmas Concertos" on one disc will find performances that they can enjoy time and time again, and they will doubtless sympathise with the bemused printer who has misprinted "Corelli" for "Torelli" on the label for side 2. The spurious but still delightful Toy Symphony receives a lighthearted but well-rehearsed performance, and the Bach Chorale Preludes (though a little out of place in this context) are quite well arranged and played. The thirteen members of this group are well balanced both internally and via the microphone."

#7 (#123-129): Children's Choir of Radio Prague: These may grow on me, but Czech Christmas music accompanied by a high, reedy bagpipe isn't my favorite by any means.

#8) (#148-160): Hayes & Boardman: Solo tenor accompanied by piano, performing works from a variety of traditions. Decent recording, not my favorite.

#9) (#161-172): Coertse et al performance of J.S. Bach's Magnificat, BWV 243: Decent performance, so-so older recording. It's possible that most of the other recordings are equally poor, but being more familiar with Magnificat from other Magnificat recordings I own, it's easier to hear the comparatively muddier sound. That, and Bach just demands more precise sound than some of the bigger choirs recorded in rich echo chambers.

#10) (#190-213): Utah S.O. Performing Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker": True holiday classic, good performance, good recording.

#11) (#214-226): Heiller performing Bach Chorales on the organ. I'm no organ aficionado, but this is a good performance and a good recording.

#12) (#227-279): English Chamber Orchestra & Johannes Somary perform G.F. Handel's Messiah Oratorio: This performance is a nice middle ground between the huge choir recordings of Messiah, performing it as though it were Brahms without any baroque airiness, and the one-voice per part HIP recordings. The soloists all do a creditable job, and despite being a 1970's recording, the sound quality is also pretty good. If you wanted a physical CD of this recording alone, it would cost $13 Handel: Messiah.

#13) (#280): Charleton Heston reading the Christmas story, from Luke. Not music, but nevertheless, an unabashed conclusion that this is a Christmas album, not a generic Holiday album.

I have to agree that not having the ID3 Tags on the composer is an annoyance, but given the price, and the fact that I have to re-format most ID3 composer tags as it is (lest I have 10 permutations of Bach, J.S. rather than one) it's something I can easily overlook and still give 5 stars.

This is well worth the buy, perhaps the best bang for the buck I've seen on Amazon (excepting the free content, of course).
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