Mika Pohjola's Yuletide Voices provide us the most refreshing take on holiday music released this year. These self-produced Scandinavian Yuletide Voices
are exactly that, Scandinavian, with a disclaimer... there are non-Scandinavian pieces here. Pohjola leads a bright orchestra of voices capably supported by an eclectic group of musicians through a truly international assembly of songs, evoking a myriad of holiday moods. This, coupled with an unusual and not so unusual repertoire, make for a successful holiday offering.
The Yuletide is metaphorically related to the warmth of the season within the cold of the season. These players and singers capture this feeling perfectly. The festivities begin with an Irish reel, "Wexford Carol," sung engagingly by Sanni Orasmaa. From there, the listener is transported from England to Finland to Switzerland to Germany and across the pond several times. The holiday spirit infuses the Scandinavian pieces in such a way that when heard, there is little doubt the season being celebrated by the music. "Anglaklocker" could have appeared in The Sound of Music , had the von Trapps been Finnish rather than Austrian.
Carol composer Alfred Burt has no less than three selections here. The son of an Episcopalian minister, Burt composed a modest fifteen carols in his short life (he died at 33), but these fifteen pieces have become cult favorites, to be polished and performed. His best known piece is "Caroling, Caroling" (not included here). Instead, Pohjola selected "Bright Bright The Holly Berries," "Ah, Bleak and Chill the Wintry Wind," and "Jesu Parvule." All are pleasantly performed and show that the seasonal spirit may be captured without the benefit of the fatigued standard fare. Not that there is none here. A jazzy "Little Drummer Boy" and somber "White Christmas" are also present. That is just so this unfamiliar collection is not too unfamiliar, thereby holding the public's attention just long enough for us to realize the true treasure within.
Personnel: Mika Pohjola: arranging, music director; Theo Bleckmann: vocals; Rigmor Gustafsson: vocals; Sanni Orasmaa: vocals; Eeppi Ursin: vocals; Lisa Werlinder: vocals; Eirik Fluge: vocals; Katja Kullander: vocals; Kristin Mulders: vocals; David Ambrosio: acoustic bass; Laura Arpiainen: violin; Alan Ferber: trombones; Mark Ferber: drums; Fernando Huergo: electric bass; Christof Knoche: reeds; Deborah Spiegel: violin; Ayumi Takeshima: violin; Yusuke Yamamoto: flute.