Christmas sounds arespecial. The songs of Christmas tell us of Christ’s birth and how we celebrate it, touching both our memories and our emotions. From the beginning, music has been integral to Christmas, and it is an indispensable part of our celebration.

In our annual review of recent Christmas recordings, we highlight albums we consider to have both high musical value and broad listener appeal. Many of the finest records vanish after a single season, so it may be wise to search out promptly those not readily available in the supermarket. Like any treasure, the best records often require diligent effort to locate, but the reward is worth it. All of these should be available through major, knowledgeable record shops.

The Many Moods of Christmas, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Robert Shaw, conductor; Telare DG-10087 digital. This is the indisputable prize in this year’s Christmas record stocking. In 1963 Shaw recorded these suites with the Robert Shaw Chorale, and we called it, “the ultimate” Christmas recording (CT, Dec. 12, 1980). Twenty years later, he has rerecorded them with his Atlanta forces in a stunning new audiophile spectacular that takes advantage of the latest recording technology. These four suites of 18 traditional selections—from “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” to “O Come, All Ye Faithful,”—were coarranged by Shaw and the late Robert Russell Bennett. With this new recording, Shaw’s performance continues to reign above all Christmas recordings on the market.

Christmas Carols, Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus, John Currie, conductor; Academy Sound and Vision ACM-2063. Currie’s classical-type arrangements rely on musicality to move the listener, not to “blow him away.” He has arranged the 17 selections in a wide variety of moods and styles. Especially noteworthy are “Past Three O’clock,” the superb British tune for “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” by Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and …), and “Child in the Manger” in a setting of the Gaelic tune, which retains its inherent folklike qualities. The performing forces reveal their consummate musicianship in all the significant ways, including their remarkable dynamic control.

The Glory of Christmas, London Ambrosian Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul Freeman, conductor; Musical Heritage Society MHS-3652. When you first hear the Tchaikovskian treatment of “Joy to the World,” which opens this album, you know it is special. This and most of the 15 selections, were arranged by Richard Hayman. The performances are matched, if not superseded, by the superior sound of the recording, made with the DBX noise-reduction process. However, you must have a DBX decoding circuit in your sound system to enjoy the stunning dynamic range with its near-total absence of record noise.

• Christmas in Velvet, The Regeneration, Derric Johnson, conductor; Impact R-3427. From “Do You Hear What I Hear?” through “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” to “Wonderful Counselor,” the virtuosity of this ten-voice ensemble is constantly evident. Through the ten a cappella selections on this 1976 recording, the singers demonstrate smoothness of blend, extrordinary vocal range, and the fresh vitality of Johnson’s arrangements.

• Sing We of Christmas, the Dale Warland Singers, Dale Warland, conductor; Augsburg 23–1918. Superb sound, precision, and stylistic sensitivity characterize Warland’s fourth Christmas album (for others, see CT, Nov. 26, 1982). The 15 selections are either a cappella or lightly accompanied. Stephen Paulus’s five arrangements include an intriguing setting of an English tune for “We Three Kings,” a fascinating harmonization of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” and his own “Snow Had Fallen; Christ Was Born.” Distler’s “Lo! How a Rose,” Britten’s “A New Year Carol,” and Rutter’s arrangement of “The Holly and the Ivy” are just a few of the many goodies to be found in this collection.

• Christmas Brass, the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble; London LDR-71076, digital. If you can have only one album of Christmas brass music, this is it. The 18 arrangements are consistently interesting. The selections range from the final chorale from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio to a medley of “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Hall” in the style of a German band, and John Rutter’s whimsical setting of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” complete with door knocking and a parody of an ending by Rossini. The recorded sound is superior.

• Christmas with the Westminster Choir, Joseph Flummerfelt, conductor; Book-of-the-Month Records. Among the 57 selections in this new collection are 17 classical excerpts by Bach, Berlioz, Britten, Handel, Mendelssohn, and Vaughan Williams, most of them accompanied by the New Jersey Symphony. Especially welcome are rarely heard excerpts from Mendelssohn’s unfinished oratorio, Christus, including “There Shall a Star Come Out of Jacob.” The 40 familiar hymns and carols are either a cappella or with organ. The cost of the three-record or two-cassette set is $22.95 plus $1.75 for handling (plus sales tax in N.Y. and Penn.) Order from Book-of-the-Month Records, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania—promptly to ensure Christmas delivery.

Also available is the choir’s 1979 “A Christmas Album” Westminster Choir WC-3, with 22 familiar carols accompanied organ, harp, and brass.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.