Library Essentials 4: 3 For The Last Days Of Christmas

Halfway through what in some circles is called the Holy Nights, in others the Twelve Days of Christmas (ending on Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany, January 6), I couldn’t resist squeezing in a few more favorite–and in my book essential–Christmas recordings, each with its own programmatic perspective. All are still available in various formats, either streaming/download or CD or both.

First is a disc from Nimbus Records in 1991 titled Celebration–Christmas Fanfares & Carols (NI 5310). It is a unique program featuring both carols–along with some nifty brass stuff from the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Welsh Guards–along with several “seasonal” readings (don’t worry–short!) beautifully recited by Welsh singer Aled Jones, who had a very famous career during his years as a boy treble. Here he eloquently reads selections from Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, and a few others. The majority of the program is the music, expertly performed by the BBC Welsh Chorus, organ, and the above-mentioned brass. The excellent liner notes, by Welsh composer Geraint Lewis, complete an irresistible package.

Next comes what might be called the “bible” of traditional-carols-by-a-choir recordings. This is the two-CD collection from The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, directed by Richard Marlow, aptly titled “Carols from Trinity”, which combines in one place two separate recordings from 1988 and 1992. The set is beyond generous: 56 tracks totaling two and a half hours of music. It contains what have become the “standard” arrangements of just about all of the best-known traditional carols along with favorite original pieces by composers such as Cornelius, Walton, Berlioz, Britten, Howells, Darke, Vaughan Williams, Leighton, etc. There also are several organ pieces dispersed throughout. And of course, the choir is unsurpassed in its command of this music–to me Trinity is the best of the Cambridge college choirs, so you can’t go wrong here. You can still find this set available here (and there you’ll also find my review from a “few” years ago).

Last is a more recent recording, from 2012, also a program of mostly traditional carols, but in arrangements you may not know–or that aren’t widely heard on recordings. The choir is the very fine Boston-based Copley Singers, founded and directed by Brian Jones, who for 20 years was Director of Music and Organist at Boston’s Trinity Church, Copley Square, well-known internationally for its music programs, and for its annual choral Christmas services. Among the 22 tracks are even a couple of secular pieces, but after all the title of the disc is “Christmas With The Copley Singers” (Gothic Records G-49283), so, why not? Anyway, the singing is superb, and the organ–the Aeolian-Skinner instrument at Harvard University’s Memorial Church–sounds fabulous!