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My Essential Christmas Albums

True confession: I own over forty Christmas CDs. That may seem excessive to some; this I acknowledge. Whenever I feel tempted to judge someone for his/her shoe fetish or other acquisitive hobby, I remember my drawer of Christmas CDs and realize that I live in a glass house. I'd be hard pressed to give up any of my CDs, but if forced at knife point, I would whittle the collection down to the following ten (not in any particular order).

Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas
No, Mariah's not my favorite person; I wouldn't want to be her pen pal, or anything. But this album is genius. Brace yourself: I can only abide the songs "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night" as sung by two people; Mariah is one of them. (Who is the other? Read on.) I defy you to be in a bad mood after listening to "Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child."

Black Christmas: Spirituals in the African-American Tradition
This album would still be worth its weight in gold if it boasted only the four tracks sung by Thomas Young. His butter-rich tenor voice on "Rise Up, Shepherd" and "Sister Mary Had-a But One Child" gives me chills each and every time.

Handel's Messiah--Helmuth Rilling and the Oregon Bach Choir
After many long years, my quest for the perfect recording of Messiah has ended. For a time The Academy of Ancient Music's version worked okay, and Leonard Bernstein's recording with the New York Philharmonic has considerable (if quirky) charm.

But these days I'm blessed to be friends with a member of the Grammy-winning Oregon Bach Choir, and she gave me this CD a couple of years ago. Rilling is a stickler for diction and precision; his discernment and discipline serve the intricate counterpoint of Handel's masterpiece beautifully. Thomas Quasthoff, one of my favorite singers in all the world, is the glorious bass. And soprano Sibylla Rubens's cadenza at the end of "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth": unqualified perfection.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Hodie/Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Oh, how I love my Ralph. He is to Christmas music what Dickens is to Christmas literature.

Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols
Otherworldly. Transfixing. Gorgeous.

Stephen Cleobury and The Choir of King's College, Cambridge: A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
There is nothing more satisfying to my rampant anglophilia than this double CD. Highlights include "Riu, Riu Chiu," Thomas Ad├Ęs's "The Fayrfax Carol," Boris Ord's "Adam Lay Ybounden," and David Humphries's reading of The Fourth Lesson.

Ella Wishes You a Swingin' Christmas
Though at times I enjoy me some Bing and Nat, some Donny and some Harry, I'm not really much for secular Christmas songs in general. This album is an exception; Lady Ella can do no wrong. The purity of her tone, her flawless style: she slays me. I can only hope that if I'm very, very good, in the next life I'll be able to sing like Ella Fitzgerald.

John Denver: Rocky Mountain Christmas
I've loved this album since I was about ten. John Denver's crystal-clear voice and gentle guitar arrangements are infinitely soothing. He's the only other person who, when he sings "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night," makes the experience enjoyable rather than mind-rendingly torturous for me.

The John Rutter Christmas Album
John Rutter has been writing and arranging brilliant Christmas carols for decades; he is surely one of Britain's national treasures. He conducts The Cambridge Singers and The City of London Sinfonia on this CD, a compilation of many of his best-known compositions. A favorite of all in this house is "The Donkey Carol," written in 5/4 time to symbolize Mary's bumpy ride to Bethlehem.

Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort: The Promise of Ages
Andrew Parrott rocks my world. Who else could weave together an album of carols spanning 600 years into a cohesive whole? The Consort goes from ethereal to rollicking with nary a blink. Favorites include "I Wonder as I Wander," "Staines Morris," and "Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending." Can't get enough.

Here's my Christmas wish: for Brian Stokes Mitchell to release a Christmas album next year. I actually just went to his website and sent him an email with that very request. Just color me fannish, 'cause I'm crazy like that.

Reader Comments (25)

Another thing we share! I have a huge collection, too. I may do a similar post, with your permission? We have some different top tens... but now I want to check out several of yours.

December 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJen of A2eatwrite

OF COURSE, Jen! I look forward to finding new favorites among your selections.

December 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLuisa Perkins

40! Eek that is a confession. [there again we were a little late converting to CDs - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it]

This is my calling card or linkhttp://whittereronautism.com/" REL="nofollow">"Whittereronautism"until blogger comments get themselves sorted out.

December 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMaddy

Um, you know how I love Brian Stokes Mitchell, right? He's the only man alive I'd wait outside a New York City theatre in -2 degree weather to meet. I was cold but it was SO worth it!

John Ritter is BRILLIANT! My high school choir sang the donkey carol . . . it was a bumpy ride for us as well!

I am going to purchase most of these right this second. This list is incredible!

(Then I'm off to email Brian as well!)

December 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKateastrophe

You could fully decorate a tree with Christmas CDs. I think that's pretty cool.

December 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRadioactive Jam

Where in the blue blazes is A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio???!! Really, Luisa, the exclusion of this classic just bewilders me. I've just now put it on and am skating around my living room a la Snoopy.

December 4, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterdeb

An interesting post. We don't have any Christmas albums. It sounds like you do have a grand collection. I can't really say what I have collected in such a way, but I am sure Sirdar would list a number of things on my behalf. I say as long as you enjoy them, it is okay.

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

Okay, the first time I tried to leave this comment, it didn't go so well, because of a nasty typo. After a huge guffaw on my part, I am now leaving this comment again, with the typo replaced... and some of the wordiness has been, um, less-wordinessed.

I went to a performance of Benjamin Britten this weekend. It was sung impeccably. The beauty of it is almost overwhelming.

And I'm a huge HUGE Rutter fan. I get opera from my daddy, but Rutter comes straight from Mom. I could go on and on and on about him, but I will restrain myself.

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBrillig

Oooh. What a flashback. My mother used to be madly in love with John Denver and said she loved men who could yodel. Anyway, every year that was her favorite Christmas album, but I haven't heard it since I left home.

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCableGirl

I am such a neophyte. Teach me, oh wise one.

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

what? No, Aimee Mann?

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Interesting list (I don't think I own a single one of those . . . may have to rectify that). I'm kinda surprised you like Mariah but not Celine in general. To me they're largely in the same category (as in freakishly talented).

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette Lyon

Kate, I do know of your love for BSM; you have excellent taste.

Maddy, thanks for the link; it's good to know where to find you.

RaJ, that's a good idea. I may try it.

Deb, that is an excellent album. It really should be somewhere on the list.

Dawn, I'll be waiting to hear from Sirdar on this topic.

Brill, the original comment got emailed to me. I laughed hard, too. I wish I could have been at the Britten performance with you!

Cablegirl, I'm glad I could bring you a moment of nostalgia. :)

Kim, point me in a direction, and I'll go on ad infinitum.

Karen, I'm so out of it that I had to look up Aimee Mann on Google.

Annette, I loved Celine back when she was a local girl singing in French in Montreal. In English, with the big hair and the chest beating? Not so much (sorry, Jenna).

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLuisa Perkins

40???? oh my gosh? When do you find the time to listen to them? do you play them all year round or only in December, I wonder

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGoofball

I don't think I have any Christmas CD's. However, if I was to get some they would be by http://www.trans-siberian.com/intro.html" REL="nofollow">Trans-Siberian Orchestra

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSirdar

I wasn't at all suprised to hear about your collection. Probably beacuse I have the same one. I might possibly have more. Well, not "me" literally, but my family.

Another one my mom just recently discovered was the Jewel Christmas Album. She sings a beautiful "O, Little Town of Bethlehem." I also like her "O Holy Night."

That is definitly one to look into if you wish to expand your collection.

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

I'm going to admit my extreme uneducatedness and say that I haven't heard of most of these artists, but I will definitely keep my eyes out for them.

I also must say that Josh Groban's "O, Holy Night" is my all-time favorite, and I'm sorry you don't feel the same way. Sigh.

December 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTristi Pinkston

I LOVE John Denver--my children all laugh (along with husband) at me whenever I crank it!
I like your list a LOT. I want to come over and listen to them with you and bake and stuff.

December 6, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteranjmae

John Rutter walks on water. My favorite Christmas album is Christmas with the Cambridge Singers (do you have that one yet?). It's the only one of my 20 Christmas CDs I can listen to over and over all December and not get sick enough of them that I'm happy to be packing them away come January.

December 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Q.

You sound like a combination of me (John Denver) and my husband (Thomas Quasthoff)!

December 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFlower Child

Wow. I can't say that I own any of these precisely...but I too am very picky about my Handel's Messiah, so I'll keep an eye open for that version.

And the King's College one sound good too - I'm always look for some of those REALLY classic songs, and never finding them...

December 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Thats not obsessive.... thats just an efficient collection!

December 10, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermeleah rebeccah

Ok, over 40, but who's counting? This year my favorite carol is The Wexford Carol. We should sing it next year.

December 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I have a TON of Christmas albums also. My favorites are by The Blenders...they have three and this year they released a two disc set that includes all of their Christmas songs. I highly recommend any of their Christmas CDs!

December 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterHeffalump

Okay, so you probably didn't like my last post, did you?

December 20, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterrjlight

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