XMAS II: Naxos Carol Collection, Straight No Chaser, The Synergy Brass Quintet, Leroy Anderson
One cannot go wrong with traditional Christmas holiday music whether rendered by choir, college glee club, brass quintet, or America's own Leroy Anderson.
Naxos Carol Collection
This collection is a no-brainer. Naxos has recorded, assembled and released a number of holiday discs since its founding in 1987. The Naxos Carol Collection is the logical outgrowth and repackaging of this music in an extensive survey release. The collection is made up of 50 holiday favorites from the Naxos library. Well represented in the collection is Edward Higginbottom's Messiah, 1751 Version, with the Academy of Ancient Music (Naxos, 2006). All excerpts from Messiah on the Naxos Carol Collection derive from this performance. The performance is vibrant and the edition historic.
Other Naxos releases represented include Noel Edison and The Elora Festival Singers' The Mystery of Christmas (Naxos, 1998): "Ding Dong Merrily on High," "Silent Night," "God is With Us" and "What Sweeter Music." Donald Hunt and the Worcester Cathedral Choir's Christmas Carols (Naxos, 1994) provide the standard fare of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "In the Bleak Midwinter," "Joy to The World" and "In dulci jubilo." These offer a broad sampling of both contemporary and traditional carol treatments that are both informative and enjoyable.
Of valuable inclusion here is Anthony Pitts and Tonus Peligrinus' A Naxos Book of Carols (Naxos, 2003). This collection was commissioned by Naxos of Pitts. The result is a fresh reading, in the form of new Antony Pitts arrangements of "Away in a Manger," "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In," "We Three Kings of Orient Are" and "Personent Hodie." The inclusion of these Pitts recordings alone make the collection of high quality, but consider the wealth of holiday music here, in one place, and the package becomes that much more attractive.
Visit Naxos Records on the web.
Straight No Chaser
Straight No Chaser is the the secular Chanticleer. Rather than specializing in Ancient and Baroque music, the a cappella SNC entertains with a variety of modern classics from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to "Africa." Emerging from Indiana University, where the tentet came together in 1996 under the leadership of Don Ponce, the male a cappella group became a renewable resource on the IU campus. In 2006 IU slated a reunion concert for the original members SNC. In celebration, and using the newest technology, original member Randy Stine posted clips from a 1998 SNC concert and the group became a YouTube sensation.
Christmas Spirits is a logical evolution for the group. Their popular mainstream repertoire is impressive and its approach to holiday classics is equally so. The arrangements tend toward the modern treatments of these songs. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" mirrors Bruce Springsteen's treatment. "Jingle Bell Rock" fairly replicates the original by Bobby Helms except that it is completely a cappella. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is deftly interpolated with "Angel's We have Heard on High" in perhaps the most impressive arrangement of the classic carols on the disc.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is one of the pieces that made the group famous on YouTube and can be found at that site. The invention of Righard Gregory and Dan Ponce is to be celebrated. It is safe to say that this is not Mitch Miller. In fact, Mitch Miller never got into the building. Straight No Chaser capture the holiday spirit perfectly on Christmas Spirits. I suspect that this disc will find its way into many collections that sport Chanticleer, Ray Coniff and, yes, Mitch Miller. This is holiday music to smile to.
Visit Straight No Chaser on the web.
The Synergy Brass Quintet
Heads Up Records
This quintet of young brass players are the rock stars of the classical music world. Their YouTube presence is indeed impressive and their visual appeal is readily apparent. But the visual aspect of the group is not the present concern. Christmas is an exuberantly executed collection of canonical holiday pieces, presented with blinding brightness. This is how instrumental holiday music, particularly the religious pieces, is supposed to sound. Just as God has a sense of humor and a creative appreciation, Synergy has no qualms appealing to either...creatively.
Like the Naxos set, this collection has no clinkers. All of the pieces are already programmed into our collective unconscious, and have become part of us. What Synergy does is present them with precision and accuracy, sharp as a razor and clear as a bell. The barn-burners "Ding Dong Merrily on High," "Joy to the World," "Deck the Halls" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" are treated as such, with great definition and grace. The "Coventry Carol" and "Sussex Carol" are expansively played as if in a cavernous room. The effect is like the bloom of a flower.