Best records for Christmas listening.

The celebration of Christ’s birth continues to produce joyous and exciting music. For the third year, we have selected some recordings from recently released albums of Christmas music that are exceptional in writing and performance.

• Hely-Hutchinson: Carol Symphony, Pro Arte Orchestra, Choir of Guildford Cathedral, Barry Rose, conductor; EMI HMV Greensleeve ESD-7021. The only recording ever made of Christian Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s Carol Symphony has long been unavailable, making this new British reissue most welcome. Written in the late 1920s, the composer imaginatively develops familiar Christmas melodies into a four-movement symphony. Easily recognized are “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” and the “Coventry Carol.” Rose also conducts the “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

• We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Boston Pops Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Williams, conductor; Philips 6302–125 (digital). “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Ives, is a hauntingly beautiful lullaby that is rarely heard. “Carol of the Drum,” popularly known as “The Little Drummer Boy,” is given its original title on this album and attributed to its real composer, Katherine K. Davis. “The Twelve Days of Christmas”—with a bell instead of a partridge in that familiar pear tree and other musical instruments in lieu of the traditional gifts—becomes a mini-introduction to the orchestra. This is a very merry Christmas collection indeed!

Still available are Boston Pops Christmas albums conducted by the late Arthur Fiedler, including: A Christmas Festival (Polydor 24–5004); Pops Goes Christmas (RCA LSC-3324), with the Arthur Fiedler Chorus; and Pops Christmas Party (RCA ARL1-3436; formerly LSC-2329). The latter includes Humperdinck’s “Children’s Prayer and Dream Pantomime” (from Hansel and Gretel).

• Pastorales de Noel, Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute, and Alexandre Legoya, guitar, with Michel Legrand at keyboards and conducting the London Symphony Orchestra; CBS-37205. Legrand has refreshingly arranged five familiar Christmas songs and composed an extended original work, “Pastorales (pour Noel).” The unique instrumentations and combination of sounds show unusual originality in expressing many of the moods of Christmas.

• Echoes of Christmas, the Dale Warland Singers; Augsburg 23–1621, digital. This is a superb professional chorus performing an especially interesting repertoire, which includes a unique three-quarter-time version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and a dramatic setting of “I Saw Three Ships.” Two recent compositions in this 1979 recording are also noteworthy: the vibrant “Out of the Orient Crystal Skies,” by Richard Zgodava, and a gentle “Hallelu,” by Stephen Paulus. A similar album, Carols of Christmas, was produced in 1981 (Augsburg 23–1317, digital), with an equally superb choral sound. Their just-released Sing Noel (Augsburg 23–2916, digital) features Christmas music of the contemporary American composer Daniel Pinkham.

• The Music of Christmas, the Cambridge Singers and Orchestra, John Rutter, conductor; WORD Medallion Series WSB-8887, Rutter’s fourth Christmas collection distinctively treats 18 traditional selections. Recorded in England’s Ely Cathedral, the choral diction is as clear as the bells on “Ding! Dong! Merrily on High.” Among the special delights are Rutter’s brilliant Handelian setting of “Joy to the World” and his whimsical version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmans.”

• In Dulci Jubilo, Paul Manz, organ; Augsburg 23–1665, digital. This is an album of distinction. Assisted by brass, flutes, and strings, Manz performs music of Praetorius, Bach, Corelli, and others.

• Christmas with the Canadian Brass. John Grady, organ, RCA ARL1-4132. This brass quintet plays superbly, and on some numbers combines with the massive organ of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for an unforgettable musical experience.

These recommendations come from among the finest of the recent Christmas albums. We believe they can enrich your personal celebration and worship this Christmas season.


Ruth Dinwiddie is a program host and producer for the Moody Broadcasting Network, Chicago; Richard, her husband, is music director and conductor of The Chicago Master Chorale.

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