, CAROLS & CHRISTMAS SONGS
Operatic baritone Bryn Terfel has the best voice under the tree this season. Who else can sing Wotan in Wagner's Das Rheingold (as Terfel did recently at the Metropolitan Opera) and warble White Christmas like der Bingle himself (as a duet with the original recording by Bing Crosby)? In Carols & Christmas Songs (Deutsche Grammophon), Terfel is a crossover pleasure in schmaltzy arrangements of Mary's Boy Child and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Harpist Catrin Finch joins in on Silent Night and What Child Is This? Terfel, who grew up on a farm in North Wales, gives a heartfelt performance on a bonus disc of Welsh carols, such as Tua Bethlem Dref (To Bethlehem) and Ganol Gaeaf Noethlwm (In the Bleak Midwinter).
THE CHERRY TREE .
Have yourself an early music Christmas with a vocal ensemble. The women of Anonymous 4 have been making beautiful medieval music since 1986, and after a four-year hiatus, their new CD, The Cherry Tree (Harmonia Mundi), is a typically smart blend of scholarship and holiday cheer. These carols and ballads are sung in Latin, old English and modern English, and many deal with the Virgin Mary, such as Hail Mary Full Of Grace and A Virgin Unspotted. The miracle ballad of the title is performed in several versions, including one from east Kentucky.
, PUER NATUS EST
Stile Antico is made up of a dozen young British choral singers who perform Renaissance music without a conductor, and their seasonal release showcases the ravishing polyphony of Thomas Tallis' Christmas Mass, Puer natus est (A boy is born). Interspersed with movements from the Mass are Tudor works for Advent and Christmas by John Taverner, William Byrd, Robert White and John Sheppard. Puer natus est (Harmonia Mundi) has an amazing, otherworldly sound.
THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR .
Like clockwork every year, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas album arrives, with special guests ranging from Walter Cronkite to Sissel, Renée Fleming to Angela Lansbury to the King's Singers. This time around it's Natalie Cole featured in The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Mormon Tabernacle Choir), performing songs made famous by her father, Caroling, Caroling and The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), as well as Grown-Up Christmas List. The Mormons belt out a batch of traditional tunes (O Holy Night, For Unto Us a Child is Born, In the Bleak Midwinter), and there's a Tchaikovsky-style rendition of Good King Wenceslas by Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott.