Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Music Not in the Christmas Music Section

After years of writing songs about his father, Bruce Springsteen finally wrote one about his mother. Called "The Wish," it's a tribute to the woman who held the family together and who bought him his first guitar one Christmas, though they had little money.

The first verse ends:

On top of a Christmas tree shines one beautiful star
And lying underneath it a brand new Japanese guitar.

It's one of my favorite Christmas songs, though you won't find it with our Christmas CDs, but on Springsteen's Tracks album, located in the Oversize CD collection.

There's a lot of great music perfect for the Christmas season that isn't cataloged as Christmas music, most of which is part of our classical music collection.

Below are some CDs worth checking out.

In the Ballet Section:

The Nutcracker, Op. 71: A Ballet in Two Acts. This is the complete ballet. It includes the "hits" from the suite and more.

Essential Ballet contains selections from the Nutcracker.

Check out The Nutcracker Suite for Guitar for Steven Pasero's take on this Christmas chestnut.

In the Oratorios* section:

Handel's Messiah, which narrates the life of Christ in condensed form, is his most popular oratorio, and with good reason. Rock out to the Hallelujah chorus in the comfort of your own home (with your stereo turned up to 11, for you Spinal Tap fans).

Messiah: The Dream Cast. Selections from Handel's much-loved work performed by Kiri Te Kanawa, Leontyne Price, Jerry Hadley, Bryn Terfel and more.

A Met Messiah. Selections from Handel's Messiah performed by greats like Marian Anderson, Joan Sutherland and Jon Vickers.

Christmas Oratorio by Bach. NPR calls this "one of the most joyful and sumptuous works of Johann Sebastian Bach." Composed of six cantatas** for six different services between Christmas and epiphany, and sung in German.

Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248. Another recording of the above, this one performed by the Failoni Chamber Orchestra for Hungarian Radio in 1992.

In the Orchestra section:

The CD entitled simply Peter Tchaikovsky contains the Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71, which is the better-known, shortened version of the Nutcracker. It includes the Waltz of the Flowers, the Arabian Dance, the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy and more.

In the Piano section:

Martha Argerich's recording of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 also includes a charming arrangement of The Nutcracker Suite for two pianos.

In the Religious section:

Chant Noel: Chants for the Holiday Season. Want a change from the usual Christmas fare? Check out this recording of Gregorian chant and more performed by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.

Marian Anderson. This recording by one of the great contraltos of the 20th century includes both classical sacred music--excerpts from cantatas and oratorios--and spirituals.

Sacred Songs. Renee Fleming can sing just about anything--and sing it gloriously. Check out her interpretations of Ave Maria--the CD includes Bach's Ave Maria as well as Schubert's--plus excerpts from Handel's Messiah and more.

In the Vocal Section:

Mad About Angels: The Greatest Stars, The Greatest Voices. While not exclusively Christmas music, Mad About Angels features "Heavenly Music" to elevate the spirit.

*oratorio: "a musical composition for voices and orchestra, telling a religious story" (The American Heritage Dictionary of New Cultural Literacy.)

**cantata: "a musical setting of a text, esp. a religious text, consisting of arias, duets, and choruses, interspersed with recitatives" (The American Heritage Dictionary of New Cultural Literacy).


Linda K. said...

Several Peter, Paul and Mary CDs have wonderful songs for the holiday. Children Go Where I Send Thee, Light One Candle, and A'Soalin' are just a few songs to be found on various CDs by PP&M in the American Folk collection.

Marie said...

Thanks for the wonderful alternatives to all the old "chestnuts" we hear everyday this time of year!

Gus said...

I'm still waiting to hear Bob Seger's version of "The Little Drummer Boy"- possibly the most moving Christmas song I can think of. Trying to teach myself guitar again, The Nutcracker Suite for Guitar sound interesting.

Chris said...

One of my favorite albums ever is George Winston's December. I listen to it all the time during the holiday season.

Laura A. said...

Thanks for chiming in with all your favorites and suggestions!

The Peter, Paul and Mary recommendations remind me of a gorgeous version of Blowin'in the Wind they perform on their Holiday Celebration CD with The New York Choral Society and strings. I don't always like souped-up versions of songs as perfect as Blowin' in the Wind, but this one always gets to me--in a good way!

I'm going to have to check out Bob Seger's Little Drummer Boy, which is on the first Very Special Christmas CD, especially since I've been on a Bob Seger kick, listening to his Greatest Hits repeatedly in my ipod. (Tbe song Main Street has the most distinctive, haunting sound. I think it's the instrumentation and that opening guitar line. An eerie sound that, for me, perfectly captures Main Street in a down-on-its luck town.)

Based on Chris's recommendation, I just put George Winston December: Piano Solos on hold. My sister praised him years ago I've always meant to check him out.

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