Christmas Music Matters: Some Wonderful Christmas Albums

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Dear Friends,

On this New Year’s eve, there are probably post-Christmas sales going on, and so I wanted to share with you some of my favorite Christmas Albums! Perhaps you’ll like one or more of them!

Of course, I love all of the Wyndham Hilly type of New Age Christmas Albums, Celtic Christmas series, and the like. I have a whole CD rack of them. What I am giving here is albums with something very special in them.

From Canyon Records

One pre-Christmas favorite is Canyon Records’ Our Lady of the Roses, a musical version of the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe, produced by my High School Classmate and best friend, Robert Doyle:

I highly recommend the album, which is beautiful, poignant, moving, and has a refreshing take on the whole story! They have now also staged a new version as an Opera in the Valley of the Sun! Congratulations Robert and Canyon!

Also from Canyon, one of my all-time favorites is R. Carlos Nakai’s and William Eaton’s Christmas album, Winter Dreams. This is a masterpiece! It’s a must have! Here’s a sample:

Joan Baez

Joan Baez created a Christmas Album with Peter Schickele (PDQ Bach), Noël, in 1966. Here is Wikipedia’s completely accurate summary:

Working with arranger-conductor Peter Schickele (PDQ Bach), Baez, for the first time, recorded an album outside the standard guitar-based folk format. She would go on to work with Schickele on her next two albums, both of which also featured classical orchestration.

Unlike holiday albums by many other popular artists, Baez included mostly traditional material, avoiding more lighthearted or commercial fare in favor of a somber, understated tone. She included both familiar (“The Little Drummer Boy”) and more obscure (“Down in Yon Forest”) material. The album also contains several brief instrumental selections arranged by Schickele.

Here are two tidbits to interest you:

“I Wonder as I Wander”:

…and a truly Mystical, “Down in Yon Forest”:

Loreena McKennitt

One of my all-time favorite musicians is Loreena McKennitt, from Canada. She has created to Enchanting Christmas albums:

  • To Drive the Cold Winter Away
  • A Midwinter’s Night Dream

McKennitt imparts mystery and magic to every piece she renders. Here’s some of the marvels you’ll encounter:

“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” with Eastern hints:

“Noël Nouvelet” with a North African flavor:

Julie Andrews

Julie Andrews has recorded many Christmas Albums, but her first, A Christmas Treasure (1968) is not only her finest, but it is an amazing partnership with André Previn which features many carols unknown to most Americans. The source material came mainly from British Hymnals. If you are a fan of the full, lush orchestrations of late 1960s movie music, as I am, this is a rare treat for Christmas!

Here’s a beautiful “Angels From the Realm of Glory”:

“The Bells of Christmas” with the unmistakable Previn orchestration:

“The Irish Carol”:

Bruce Cockburn

Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn (pronounced “Co-burn”), created his Christmas album in 1993 with international Christmas music, including, as we have already seen, the Huron Carol.

Here is “Ríu Riu Chíu,” a 16th Century Spanish villancico:

Ríu, ríu, chíu, la guarda ribera,
Dios guardó el lobo de nuestra cordera.

“[With a cry of] Ríu, ríu, chíu, the kingfisher, God kept the wolf from our Lamb [Mary, spared of the original sin at birth].”

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder
Mas Dios Poderoso la supo defender
Quíso la hacer que no pudiese pecar
Ni aun original esta virgen no tuviera.

“The raging wolf sought to bite her, but God Almighty knew to defend her; He chose to make her so that she could not sin; no original sin was found in that virgin.”

Éste que es nacido es el Gran Monarca
Cristo Patriarca de carne vestido
Ha nos redimido con se hacer chiquito
Aunque era infinito finito se hiciera.

“This one that is born is the Great King, Christ the Patriarch clothed in flesh. He redeemed us when He made himself small, though He was Infinite He would make himself finite.”

Yo vi mil Garzones que andavan cantando
Por aqui volando haciendo mil sones
Diciendo a gascones Gloria sea en el Cielo
Y paz en el suelo pues Jesús nasciera.

“I saw a thousand boys (angels) go singing, here making a thousand voices while flying, telling the shepherds of glory in the heavens, and peace to the world since Jesus has been born”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_T0I6hx3aW4

Here is his French version of the carol we know of as “Angels we have Heard on High.” It was composed in  Languedoc, my favorite magical region of France, and has been translated into many languages. I presume the original was in Occitan, the language of Languedoc.

Les anges dans nos campagnes
Ont entonné l’hymne des cieux,
Et l’écho de nos montagnes
Redit ce chant mélodieux

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Bis)

Bergers, pour qui cette fête ?
Quel est l’objet de tous ces chants ?
Quel vainqueur, quelle conquête
Mérite ces cris triomphants :

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Bis)

Ils annoncent la naissance
Du libérateur d’Israël
Et pleins de reconnaissance
Chantent en ce jour solennel

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Bis)

Cherchons tous l’heureux village
Qui l’a vu naître sous ses toits
Offrons-lui le tendre hommage
Et de nos cœurs et de nos voix

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Bis)

Bergers, quittez vos retraites,
Unissez-vous à leurs concerts,
Et que vos tendres musettes
Fassent retentir les airs

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Bis)

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plain
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strain

—Chorus—:

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be?
Which inspire your heavenly songs?

Chorus

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ, the Lord, the newborn King.

Chorus

See Him in a manger laid,
Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
With us sing our Savior’s birth.

“Chorus”

The Christmas Revels

Any recording from The Christmas Revels is a gem! These local productions across the Nation are a seasonal treat, and they have published many albums. You can find them here. I have enjoyed these since I first discovered them in High School.

Here just a couple of examples:

You can find many, many of these on YouTube!

Orthodox Hymns of Christmas

St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood NY, a seminary of the Orthodox Church in America publishes wonderful recordings of Byzantine Liturgical Music. Their Album for Christmas is marvelous!

Here is a selection from the Matins Canon for Christmas from this recording. Awesome!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

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