November 25, 2005

Classical recordings get in the holiday spirit

By Anastasia Tsioulcas

NEW YORK (Billboard) - With the holiday season fast
approaching, flurries of classical Christmas releases are
hitting stores. Some feature tried-and-true artists and
repertoire; others add new spices to the wintertime blend.

The biggest hit of 2005 appears to be Il Divo's
Syco/Columbia album "The Christmas Collection." The sizzle the
quartet's debut created earlier this year shows no signs of
slowing down. For its first holiday release, which came out
October 25, the group performs favorites like "O Come All Ye
Faithful" and "Silent Night" alongside such unexpected fare as
"Over the Rainbow."

Other chart successes this season include the
special-edition re-release of Luciano Pavarotti's "O Holy
Night" with three previously unreleased tracks (Decca, October
11); violinist Andre Rieu's "New Year's in Vienna," featuring
beloved Strauss waltzes (Denon, October 25); and a good-living
doyenne's entry into the classical music lifestyle market,
"Martha Stewart Living Music: Classical Favorites for the
Holidays" (Legacy/Epic, October 18).

Choral music is a perennial favorite this time of year. For
2005, the King's College Choir, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen
Cleobury, has turned to contemporary composers like Arvo Part,
Harrison Birtwistle and Thomas Ades for its two-disc "On
Christmas Day: New Carols From King's" (EMI Classics, October


This year, however, the singers are competing against
themselves. Decca released a double-CD set titled "Essential
Carols: The Very Best of King's College Choir," featuring more
traditional Yuletide fare (October 11). Another choice pick is
Naxos' recording of Witold Lutoslawski's "Twenty Polish
Christmas Carols," with soprano Olga Pasichnyk, conductor
Antoni Wit, the Polish Radio Chorus, Krakow and the Polish
National Radio Symphony Orchestra.

There is plenty of early music available this season as
well. The Boston Camerata, led by Joel Cohen, teams up with the
Sharq Arab-American Ensemble for an unusual album, "A
Mediterranean Christmas." The recording journeys through
repertoire from the 12th to 19th centuries with works sung in
Spanish, Ladino, Portuguese, Italian, Occitan/Provencal, Hebrew
and Arabic (Warner Classics, November 8).

For more multicultural Christmastime pleasures, check out
Anonymous 4's midline boxed set, "Noel: Carols and Chants for
Christmas," which brings together four of its previous
yule-themed recordings (Harmonia Mundi, October 11), and
"Baroque Christmas (Noel Baroque)," featuring the young,
Montreal-based ensemble Masques conducted by Olivier Fortin in
a program of music by Scarlatti, Charpentier, Delalande,
Gaetano Maria Schiassi and Antonio de Salazar as well as
traditional Irish and French Noel tunes (Analekta, November 8).