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December 17, 2010

Just a few more Christmas CDs to consider this year

During a couple days off, I found myself popping in some more new CDs of Christmas music while I caught up on some chores at home.

Lo and behold, I also found myself enjoying them, especially Bryn Terfel's -- thanks to his performance of one particular carol that just lit up my little world like crazy. More on that in a moment.

If you're looking for a big production sort of disc, I'd say you'd find it with "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on the famed group's own label. Naturally, the choir makes a big, rich sound; the instrumental side of the performance is equally hefty and impressive; and pop singer Natalie Cole provides the starry solo work.

For an operatic burst of Christmas and sort-of-Christmas-y fare, you can't go wrong with "Santo," a Decca collection of sacred music sung with his usual technical brilliance and communicative power by Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez. He does an appealing job with such familiar items as "Every Valley" from "Messiah" and, of course, "O Holy Night."

He puts a dynamic spin on arias from Masses by Rossini and Bellini and Haydn's "Creation" that help fill out the recording. Florez also

sings one of his own compositions, the one that gives the album its title. It's a folksy, colorful charmer that sometimes sounds a little Eastern European as well as Latin.

Now back to the Terfel release, "Carols and Christmas Songs" (Deutsche Grammophon). Except for a version of "White Christmas" that sounds rather like a karaoke thing (it's a duet, in a manner of speaking, with the Bing Crosby' recording), the disc is thoroughly entertaining and often downright endearing.

Terfel, of course, possesses one of the major voices of our time, and it's enjoyable just hearing all those beautifully rounded tones. He phrases so naturally and so expressively that the most familiar items sound new, as in the case of "Silent Night," with a haunting arrangement by Chris Hazell.

The gem here, though, is "Still, still, still," an Austrian carol that I must confess is new to me. I can't believe what I've been missing all these years. This is such a hypnotically beautiful, touching melody, with sweet words to match. A perfect carol, in my book. Terfel sings it with an exquisite warmth, and the arrangement by Mack Wilberg is perfect at generating a sense of stillness and heavenly peace. Here's a taste:


There's a bonus disc of Terfel singing carols in his native Welsh language, one more reason to welcome this release, which now ranks among my favorite Christmas albums.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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