It's been sitting there on the shelf for a month or two, glaring at me: "White Christmas," by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Columbia M 34546). Now, with an ultimate deadline also glaring at me, I have played side two, which has two cuts just barely worth hearing. I shall not play side one unless someone at a Christmas party asks to hear that thing about chestnmuts roasting by an open fire (when was the last time you roasted a chestnut?) or the thing about the little drummer boy. With minimal exceptions (perhaps "Baby, What You Goin' to Be?" and "Lullaby"), this is a collection of crassly commercial exploitation - including the beloved "White Christmas" and the almost equally beloved "Winter Wonderland." The trouble is that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has alrady made at least four Christmas albums, and the contents of this one should be labeled "Leftovers" or possibly "Christmas in Tin Pan Alley." It's terrible, it's beautifully sung, millions will love it, and they deserve it.
A four-page booklet is enclosed. Since there's nothing to say about the music, the booklet is devoted to favorite Christmas recipes of members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They look like good recipes, and they should go well with the record, which is a turkey.
The following are records I have been playing to koll the taste of the above. All are recommended.
A Renaissance Christmas Celebaration with the Waverly Consort, Michael Jaffee director (Columbia M 34554). A Renaissance Christmas, The Boston Camerata, Joel Cohen director (Advent cassette D 1031). Despite the similarity of titles, these two well-sung collections duplicate only one number, the Spanish song, "Riu, riu, chiu," which seserves to be heard as often as possible. The Columbia record has a light, popular flavor, a high proportion of folk melodies, a couple of instrumental dance numbers and a rather modern sound, including trumpets. The Advent cassette is a connoisseur's delight, with the sound of authentic period instruments and a genral emphasis on less-known music (mostly polyphonic) that is eminently worth knowing. Its performances of Josquin's "In Principio" and Obrecht's "Magnificat" are particularly noteworthy, but the total concept is carefully thought-out and beautifully executed. This is a Christmas record for all seasons.
Benjamin Britten; Saint Nicholas, Robert Tear, tenor; Bruce Russell, treble; King's College Choir; Cambridge Girls' Choir; Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Newille Mariner, leader); David Willcocks, conductor (Seraphim S-60296). This is not strictly Christmas msic, but a dramatic cantat based on the life of a figure closely associated with that feast. Whatever you call it, the music is splendid - colorful and pious at once, with vivid descriptive section for events as diverse as a famine and a storm at sea. This is, remarkably, the first stereo recording and the performance is very good, though I wish the girls' chorus had put a little more muscle into the rambunctious section on the birth of the saint.
Bach: Christmas Oratorio., Elly Ameling, Janet Baker, Robert Tear, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Choir of King's College, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Philip Ledger conductor (Angle SC-3840, three records). This series of six cantatas for the period between Christmas and Epiphany may be the greatest sustained expression in music of the joy, the splendor and the deeper significance of the season. There is also a shade of tragic irony, a foreshadowing of the Crucifixion in the use here twice of the chorale that recurs so effectively in the "Saint Matthew Passion." And when you are listening to it this form, it matters not at lla that much of the music was originally secular, written for royal birthdays; after all, Bach considered Christmas the most royal birthday of them all. There have been several excellent recordings of this work, of which the Telefunken is the most stylistically precise, the Deutsche grammophon the best-sung. This new version makes a fine approximation of 18th -century style and the singing is always excellent if not always better than that of Christa Ludwig and Fritz Wunderlich. It is a worthy representation of great music and can be warmly recommended.
Joan Baez: Noel. (Vanguard open-reel stereo tape D 79230, available from Barclay-Crocker, 11 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10004, $7.95). The Baez voice had lost some of its early glow when this program was recorded, but its remains one of the notable voices of our time. The selection is largely traditional ("Deck the Halls," Adolphe Adam's superb "Cantique de Noel," "What Child Is This," "Silent Night," Schubert's "Ave Maria," etc), but that is as it should be, and the music is superbly orchestrated and arranged into a sort of suite by that multi-faceted genius, Peter Schickele. The stereo sound is magnificent.