By Ted AYALA
If there is anything tougher than buying Christmas presents for your nearest and dearest, it’s buying Christmas CDs. Amidst the morass of “Jingle Cats,” “Jingle Dogs,” and whatever other jingling beasts known to man lie in wait at your local record store aisle, finding a good classical Christmas CD can be tough.
So I’m hoping this guide can prove to be of some use to
you when you’re looking to switch out “Grandma Got Runover by a Reindeer” from your turnstile.
Peter Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (excerpts) – Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (Sony Classical Masterworks 93014). So it may not have the entire ballet – but what you have included in this inexpensive CD are all the best moments. The “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” “Waltz of the Flowers,” and lesser known numbers like the “Spanish Dance” and more are included in this set. Ormandy’s “Fabulous Philadelphians” outdo themselves here.
Philadelphia was always renowned for its lush strings, but every orchestral section shines here. The burnished elegant brass and full throated winds are everything you could ever want. This is the Rolls Royce of Nutcracker recordings, no doubt – and you can find it for ridiculously cheap, too. Don’t pass this up.
Gian Carlo Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors – Various singers; Chicago and Nashville Symphony Choirs, Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Alastair Willis (Naxos 8669019). A classic Christmas favorite since it premiered on NBC in the early 1950s, Menotti’s Amahl has surprisingly not been often recorded. This excellent new recording on the budget Naxos more than makes amends for this drought. All the artists involved are superb, as is the Naxos sound. To have such a fine recording is reason enough to be thankful this Christmas. That it should be budget priced to boot is a Christmas miracle in and of itself. If you can enjoy monaural sound, be sure to also find the original RCA recording with Thomas Schippers at the helm.
George Frederick Handel: The Messiah – Jon Vickers, Giorgio Tozzi, et al; Beecham Choral Society, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham (RCA Gold Seal 61266). Handel’s Messiah has long been a sing-a-long favorite for generations now. It’s hard not to see why. Handel’s glorious music makes it hard to reign in the impulse to wail along. While more “historically informed” version of Handel’s masterpiece, none come close to blood pumping theatrics of Beecham’s recording. Using an orchestral arrangement closer to world of Wagner than Handel, Beecham nonetheless soars straight to the heart of this work. His soloists – top and tailed by the incomparable Jon Vickers – leave the “period performance” crooners in the dust. Couple that with superb “Living Stereo” sonics and you have a Messiah for the ages. Should you want another eccentric, but red-blooded Messiah, try looking for Hermann Scherchen’s stereo recording (Westminster Records) in a classical cut-out or used bin at your record
A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (Sony Legacy/Phil Spector Records 59214). Okay, so this isn’t classical music – but it’s still great music. Of course, Spector was famous for infusing the sonorities of classical music into pop: “symphonies for the kids,” he called them. Originally released the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, America’s downcast mood caused Spector’s Christmas album to bomb. A shame because Spector’s boyish love of all things Christmas produced some of the brightest sparks of the “Tycoon of Teen’s” youthful genius here. Subsequent generations have known better and embraced Spector’s Christmas present. Truly indispensable on Christmas – or any day.
Got any more trouble shopping for classical Christmas CDs? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for some more Christmas CD consultation.