Andrea Bocelli, a pop candidate for the coveted title of "the fourth tenor," will be televised Christmas Day on "Great Performances" in a program called "Andrea Bocelli: Sacred Music." Some of the music he will sing, with Myung-Whun Chung conducting, is appropriate for Christmas ("Adeste Fideles," Schubert's and Gounod's "Ave Marias," "Silent Night" and Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus, for example). Others are religious but not related to Christmas--notably Franck's "Panis Angelicus" and Verdi's "Ingemisco," which is actually about the Last Judgment. The program also includes Handel's "Ombra mai fu" (the Largo from "Xerxes," which sounds like sacred music but is actually a love song to a tree). Most of this material, with a few other items, can be heard on the Philips CD "Sacred Arias," which was released last month and became an instant bestseller.
'Tis the Season: If money is no object, there are several spectacular Christmas gift CD possibilities this year. Some are linked to anniversaries. For the 150th anniversary of Chopin's death, the name-recognition prize goes to "The Rubinstein Collection," a completely remastered 94-CD set containing, as RCA proudly claims, "for the first time, all of Rubinstein's approved recordings," digitally remastered (often with significantly enhanced sound). The collection goes far beyond Chopin (Rubinstein's performances of Spanish piano music, for example, were widely acclaimed), but Chopin is at the heart of it, including multiple recordings of many pieces, dating from various points in Rubinstein's career. The list price is (take a deep breath) $1,599.97, but if you shop around you should be able to knock off 10 percent. And if it's still too steep, Rubinstein's Chopin recordings are available separately.
For the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach's death, there are complete (or virtually complete) collections, on the Hanssler, Warner/Atlantic/Teldec and Harmonia Mundi labels. More specialized in taste and more modestly priced is a 12-disc boxed set from Sony: "The Original Jacket Collection: Glenn Gould Plays Bach." The discs are packaged in small replicas of the original Columbia LP jackets and copiously annotated in a 74-page booklet (introduced by former Washington Post music critic Tim Page) and in a CD-ROM segment of the disc containing Gould's only organ recording--Vol. I of "The Art of Fugue," a performance so controversial that Vol. II was never recorded. Sony has given a similar treatment, on a slightly more modest scale (nine CDs) to another one of its archival treasures: "The Original Jacket Collection: Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky," with an introduction by Stravinsky's assistant Robert Craft.
Unless you know your gift recipient's CD collection in some detail, it is probably prudent to choose a gift of music that is relatively unfamiliar and recently issued. Quite a few excellent CDs fit that description.
Two of Washington's most talented artists, narrator Robert Aubry Davis and pianist Haskell Small, have collaborated on an imaginative recording titled "Once Upon a Time: Children's Tales for Piano and Narrator," on the Ongaku label. The best-known work on the disc is Francis Poulenc's "The Story of Babar," in a performance that combines narrative expressiveness with musical sensitivity and virtuosity. Other selections include Soulima Stravinsky's music for scenes from "Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Sleeping Beauty"; Henri Barraud's four short, exotic "Histoires pour les Enfants"; and Richard Wilson's surrealistic "A Child's London." For Stravinsky and Barraud, the text is simply a series of titles that tell what the next short piece is about. Wilson, like Poulenc, uses a narrative text that matches the music in interest. There is a sophistication in this material and performance that will appeal to adults as much as to the children who are supposed to be its primary audience.
Antonio Vivaldi and mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli are brought together in one of the season's best recordings and one of the safest last-minute gift choices for the music lover on your list who "has everything." Unless he has bought Bartoli's "Vivaldi Album" on the Decca label within the last month or two, most of the material in this collection will be unfamiliar. This collection shows that Vivaldi wrote as brilliantly for voices as for instruments, and that Bartoli is superbly at home in baroque music.
Some of the world's best bargain recordings are being issued on the Naxos label at a list price of $5.97--most notably of late in its "American Classics" series, which produces superbly recorded and expertly performed discs--often using European orchestras because they are less expensive than American ones. Two excellent recordings in this series (both including solos by violinist James Buswell) are the Symphony No. 4 of Benjamin Lees ("Memorial Candles"), a tribute to victims of the Holocaust, and Walter Piston's two Violin Concertos and Fantasia for violin and orchestra.
Peter Serkin and Andras Schiff, two of the finest pianists active today, perform a fascinating and superbly coordinated program of music for two pianos by Mozart, Reger and Busoni in a two-CD set issued by ECM. The same company has issued an equally appealing, though stylistically quite different two-CD set of trio sonatas by Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), one of the most underappreciated composers of the baroque era. The sparkling performances feature oboist Heinz Holliger, violinist Thomas Zhetemair and bassoonist Klaus Thunemann.
Steve Reich, a pioneer of minimalism, began his career by taping and remixing natural sounds. In a new CD titled "Reich Remixed," issued by Nonesuch, which has recorded much of his music, nine Reich compositions (including "Music for 18 Musicians," "Drumming," "Piano Phase" and "Come Out") are remixed, with additional material, by American, British and Japanese disc jockeys.