Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Christmas music recommendations

December 27, 2018

Now that the Christmas season is upon us, I’d like to recommend two wonderful discs of Christmas music that have brought me much pleasure over the past few years.



The first is RÓS: Songs of Christmas, from the Norwegian Soloists’ Choir, a group of which you’ve probably not been previously aware. The music is a blend of things you’d think wouldn’t work well together, and you’d be wrong. The disc begins with a Norwegian-language rendition of Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming (called Det hev ei rose sprunge), as lovely a version as you’re ever likely to hear. The centerpiece is a “suite for Christmas” which interweaves the ecstatic melodies of St Hildegard von Bingen with carols, sung in a manner inspired by the Norwegian folk tradition. The arrangements of St Hildegard’s music are unusually rustic, and the carol arrangements are unusually elaborate, which helps to bridge the gap between these two very different musical realms. Of course, you and I don’t speak Norwegian, but it hardly matters: the warmth and happy good cheer of this music are such that it could be nothing but Christmas music, and this disc is among the most joyful and delightful collections of Christmas music known to me. Here is a featurette about the disc:



Kate Rusby has made a few Christmas records, but I’m partial to Sweet Bells. She is a bright light on the English folk music scene, with a distinctive lilting voice and a wonderful way with traditional songs. On this record she sings some standard Christmas fare — carols like “Here We Come A-Wassailing” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, the latter given a slow and surprisingly effective tempo — with songs, both sweet and sad, that draw more strongly on the folk tradition, like “Serving Girl’s Holiday” and “The Miner’s Dream of Home”. It’s an unconventional combination, but convincing in her hands. Here is “The Holly and the Ivy”:

Merry Christmas!

Christmas, 2016

December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas Eve, 2016

December 24, 2016


Who is rising in the east
like the light of many suns?
Bridegroom coming to the feast:
eagerly his race he runs.
Splendor of the rising day,
reaching out from end to end,
all creation in his sway—
and he calls the sinner “friend.”

Camel through the needle’s eye,
for our sake becoming poor,
so the Lord of earth and sky
enters through a humble door:
enters through a Virgin womb,
rises from a borrowed grave.
So he wills to gently come.
Powerfully he comes to save.

He comes forth to be our food
reigning from the Father’s hand.
Eat and live: be filled with good.
Drink, and you will understand.
Every morning mercies new
on the altar, grace for grace,
fall like never-failing dew
till we see him face to face.

Kathleen Pluth



Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2015

Master of Salzburg, c.1400

Wishing you and yours a very happy
and blessed Christmas season.



♪ ♫ Have yourself a very little Schoenberg ♬

December 23, 2015

Doing my best to avoid “dangerous and disgusting habits”, I am sticking with Advent music for another few days. Here is a nice discovery: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” arranged by, of all people, Arnold Schoenberg.

(Hat-tip: Ivan Hewett)

Christmas, 2013

December 25, 2013

A very merry Christmas, one and all!

Merry Christmas!

December 26, 2012

A little late this year, but no less sincere: Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas wishes to one and all. Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Chesterton on Christmas

December 16, 2010

Based on the number of times he wrote about it, I believe that Christmas was Chesterton’s favourite festival. This week at The Hebdomadal Chesterton I have posted a passage that is one of his best on the theme. He writes about the special character of the Christmas story:

The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero-worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth.  It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can some times take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from within.

If you wish, you may read the whole thing.

Music for Advent and Christmas

December 6, 2010

Advent is now upon us. In our household that means, among other things, that the hip-hop and heavy metal get pushed off the turntable to make way for more traditional and seasonal fare. Each year it is my custom to add one record of Advent or Christmas music to our collection; this year, for reasons attributable more or less directly to a lack of discipline, we have added three. All three, I must say, are excellent. Let me be more specific:

Puer Natus Est – Stile Antico: I have written before (more than once) about the young British ensemble Stile Antico. In just a few short years they have established themselves as one of the finest choirs singing Renaissance polyphony, notable for their gorgeous blend, clear textures, crystalline tuning, and interesting programmes. This, their most recent disc, is a collection of English polyphony, principally from the sixteenth century, on themes related to Advent and Christmas (for the most part). The disc is structured around Thomas Tallis’ monumental seven-voice Missa Puer Natus Est and William Byrd’s miniature Advent Propers. To this they add an assortment of superb pieces by John Sheppard, John Taverner, and Robert White, whose very beautiful Magnificat gets a rare airing. As usual with this choir, the singing is nuanced and attentive, and even if I agree with Charles Downey that it is not quite up to the standards of their earlier recordings (not quite, mind you), this disc is nonethless outstanding. [Listen to samples]

The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols, and Ballads for Christmas – Anonymous 4: I think this is the third album of Christmas music that Anonymous 4 have made, and it maintains the high standards we have come to expect from them. This time the repertoire is focused around fifteenth-century England, with a few later additions from America to illustrate the musical debts and departures in the tradition. The carols on this disc are remarkable for their structure: a short refrain (often in Latin) alternates with verses in English (Middle English, naturally). It is not all that often that we have the opportunity to hear Middle English sung, so this is a treat. Much of this music is rooted in popular song, and the melodies are catchy. Needless to say, it has rarely been sung as well as it is here. The sound that Anonymous 4 produces is angelic.  [Listen to samples]

And Glory Shone Around – The Rose Ensemble: If you prefer your Christmas music a little earthier, this disc from The Rose Ensemble (new to me) could be just the thing. It is billed as “Early American Carols, Country Dances, Southern Harmony Hymns, and Shaker Spiritual Songs”, and that is accurate. The ensemble is small, with one voice to a part, and accompanied by fiddles, drums, flutes, and various plucked instruments. Not all of the songs are related to Christmas, but most are, and the performances are lively and accomplished. This certainly makes a nice change from the usual Christmas fare. [Listen to samples]