Christmas II: Two (Almost New) Chanticleer Christmas Offerings

C. Michael Bailey By

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San Francisco's "Orchestra of Voices," Chanticleer have established themselves as America's premier all-male chorus. The group's repertoire spans 1500 years from anonymous plainchant to the group's tribute to the music of the big and small screen, Someone New (Chanticleer Records, 2013).

Tailor made for singing holiday classics, Chanticleer has established a robust track record in the repertoire, be it Medieval or post-modern. I addressed the group's earlier holiday releases in Chanticleer: An Orchestra of Voices Honoring Christmas.

Considered here are two holiday releases of liturgy and carols, old and new, culled from live radio broadcasts and appearances on National Public Radio. These performances are immediate and urgent with celebration of the most festive of seasons.

A Chanticleer Christmas
Chanticleer Records

In 2007, American Public Media began distributing the all-male chorus Chanticleer's annual Christmas show to its affiliates for broadcast. This particular concert was recorded in Stanford University's Memorial Chapel as Chanticleer was making its holiday trek for them East Coast back home, where the group typically closes its season at St. Ignatius in the Inner Richmond Section in San Francisco. The concert I attended there in 1997 was more than memorable.

This recital is typical of Chanticleer's Christmas show. It is necessarily heavy on the older forms: plainsongs and liturgical music, liberally sprinkled with 20th-Century and popular fare. Praetorius scholars all, Chanticleer present warm performances of "Wn! Natus Est Emanuel/Psallite" and "Vom Himmel Hoch." The group travels Europe passing through France ("Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabella" and "Angels We Have Heard on High"), the Czech Republic ("Rocking Carol") and merry old England (Peter Warlock's "Bethlehem Down") and the New World ("Away In the Manger" and "Caroling, Caroling").

The arrangements tend to be off the beaten path with Joseph Jennings adding his own talent, transforming "O Holy Night." A Chanticleer Christmas is, at once, festive and solemn and a welcome addition to the Chanticleer discography.

Our Favorite Carols
Chanticleer Records

Released the year after A Chanticleer Christmas, Our Favorite Carols is a more sharply narrowed repertoire, focusing on traditional Christmas Carols from the English language holiday traditions. These 17 pieces were recorded in the same venue as A Chanticleer Christmas, Stanford University's Memorial Chapel. No other detail is provided regarding the performances. They are warm and light, with a more festive personality than the ancient music of A Chanticleer Christmas.

"Good King Wenceslas" is festive while Charles Ives' "A Christmas Carol" is, well, so Charles Ives. "I Wonder as I Wander" is dense with pathos while Gustav Holst's "In The Bleak Midwinter" has become a holiday centerpiece. These Chanticleer recordings are a good place to start with their holiday music. Their finest holiday recording remains We Sing Christmas (Teldec, 1995).

Tracks and Personnel

A Chanticleer Christmas

Tracks: Hodie Christus natus est; admirabile commercium; Hodie nobis cælorum Rex; En! Natus est Emanuel Psallite; Vom Himmel hoch; Caroling, Caroling Bright, Bright the Holly Berries; Angels We Have Heard on High; Bethlehem Down; There Is No Rose of Such Virtue; Rocking Carol (Hajej, nynej, Ježíšku); Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabella; Away in a Manger; Holy Night; The First Nowell; Ave Maria (Franz Biebl).

Personnel: Chanticleer.

Our Favorite Carols

Tracks: A Babe is Born in Bethlehem; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Rejoice and Be Merry; Good King Wenceslas; Gabriel's Message; Star of Wonder/We Three Kings of Orient Are/No Small Wonder; I Saw Three Ships; A Virgin Unspotted; Huron Carol; A Christmas Carol I Wonder as I Wander; See, Amid the Winter's Snow; Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day; The Town Lay Hushed; This Have I Done for My True Love; The Holly and the Ivy; In the Bleak Midwinter; Silent Night.

Personnel: Chanticleer.

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