We’ll be completely candid about our latest Album of the Week: It’s an unabashed pitch for one of our own creations.* But a pretty darn good one, if we do say so. WQXR For the Holidays is a chance to put our own curatorial stamp on the holiday album. It’s a collection of carols, songs and classical Christmas pieces presented in rich yet tasteful orchestral, choral and chamber arrangements.
A few ground rules helped guide this set: 1) keep the bombast to a minimum, 2) no syrupy string arrangements and 3) emphasize the classical side of the holiday canon. Thus, among the composers you'll find are Bach (the Christmas Oratorio Part I and Sheep May Safely Graze), Corelli (the Largo from the Christmas Concerto), Vaughan Williams (Fantasia on Greensleeves), Tchaikovsky (three excerpts from the Nutracker Suite) and Handel (what else, but the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah).
The collection includes no fewer than three takes on “Sleigh Ride”: the popular light orchestral piece by Leroy Anderson, heard in a bouncy version by the Richard Hayman Orchestra; Frederick Delius's little-known but enchanting Sleigh Ride; and Mozart’s “Schlittenfahrt” from the Three German Dances, with its jangly assortment of tuned sleigh bells.
And there are plenty of carols including In dulci jubilo, in an arrangement by John Rutter; the 16th-century carol Gaudete Christus est natus; and In the Bleak Midwinter, a piece that was named the best Christmas carol in a poll of some of the world's leading choral experts in 2008. The performers, all drawn from the Naxos catalog, include choruses like the Trinity Church Choir, Elora Festival Singers and Washington Choral Arts Society; and ensembles such as the New Zealand Symphony and Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. Pianist Leon Fleisher even appears on one track.
Happy listening, and Happy Holidays!