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Holiday 2014: Mostly A Cappella

C. Michael Bailey By

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Choral Christmas is here in spades. The Boys of St. Paul's Choir School pits itself with Noel Edison and his Festival Elora Singers in similar programs while Capriccio Records offers a Baroque embarrassment of wealth from the time of Bach.

John Robinson, Director; The Boys of St. Paul's Choir School
Christmas in Harvard Square
Decca Records
2014

The Boys of St. Paul's Choir School of Boston are looking to take the Christmas Choral mantle from The King's College Choir, Cambridge (England) with their holiday release Christmas in Harvard Square. The two choir's repertoires are not markedly different nor are their memberships, both boy choirs that feature a goodly number of trebles. It is striking to note the purity of sound in the boy treble voice and easy to understand their popularity in choral circles. Here, their presence enhances the expansive power of "Once in Royal David's City" and the intimate darkness of "Still, Still, Still" or "In The Bleak Midwinter." Director John Robinson's arrangements tend toward the more daring when compared to King's, but the group never veers off the road even in the more demanding parts. Recorded well in back, the Choir is captured in a deeply resonate splendor, that is almost too far away, but fine, never the less.

Elora Festival Singers; Michael Blass; Noel Edison, Director
The Wonder of Christmas
Naxos Records
2014

Noel Edison and the Elora Festival Singers have provided varying programs for Naxos Records, including Arvo Part's Berliner Messe, Passio and Triodion, among others. The Canadian Choir turns in a hearty collection of holiday favorites, mostly of the traditional sacred variety. Edison's conducting is crisp and the Choir is possesses a fully mature sound that juxtaposes well with the Boys of St. Paul's Choir School, illustrating the strengths of each configuration. A superb "Dancing Day," as well as a slow-flowing "Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming" are found here. John Tavener's "Rocking" is shimmering and transluecent, like St. Paul's dark glass, while the traditional spiritual "I Wonder as I Wander" is transformed, pillowed by the choir trebles and established in the lower registers. This is a very capable holiday offering.

Various Artists
Baroque Christmas: Cantatas Motets
Capriccio Records
2014

Capriccio Records mined its considerable holdings to draw together from multiple sources Christmas cantatas and motets, mostly, but not exclusively from the Bach family. There are other usual suspects included: Christian Geist, Dietrich Buxtehude, George Philipp Telemann...you get the idea. These pieces were recorded between 1984 and 2008, providing an ample sampling for the Capriccio Christmas catalog.

Of the pieces presented, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach's motet Wachet auf, fust uns die Stimme is particularly fine. Papa Bach's contribution there is hi Lobe den herrn, meine seele BWV 143. The elder Bach liked to pull out all of the stops and present BIG SOUND Cantatas, something he does presently. The performance is warm and surrounding, smelling of church incense. The Buxtehude is equally fine as is Pal Esterhazy's brief, but satisfying, Cur fles, Jesu. A good sampler of the period.

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