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 Recording of the Week  Top new Christmas recommendations

Each year I’m always surprised by the quantity of genuinely new Christmas inspired releases well worth exploring, and this year is no exception. This week I’ve turned over the whole of the new release section below to Christmas releases but want to explore a few of them in a bit more detail first.

Honegger’s Une Cantate de Noël is a Christmas work with a difference. It was the Swiss composer's last work and arguably one of his most popular compositions. It was written in 1953 and although the text is derived largely from liturgical sources, it also includes traditional carols in French and German. This is very appropriate of course for multilingual Switzerland, but perhaps Honegger also had a more symbolic message of peace in mind, coming just seven years after the conclusion of World War II. It is scored for solo baritone, mixed chorus, children’s choir and an orchestra including organ, and the combination of the different texts and forms creates a wonderfully uplifting effect. Very approachable, and a welcome change from the more established Christmas choral masterpieces.

Moving slightly more mainstream (but still some distance from any sort of traditional Christmas selection) is a new disc from The Choir of Westminster Abbey under James O’Donnell called ‘A Christmas Caroll’. It includes a few contemporary carols from the likes of Jonathan Dove and Bob Chilcott, while the richness of twentieth-century church music is illustrated in works by Poulenc, Walton, Mathias and Leighton, and by the heartbreakingly lovely piece called The little road to Bethlehem by Michael Head. Skilful arrangements of the traditional carols Silent night, In dulci jubilo and I saw three ships complete this highly recommended release.

No living composer has come to be more closely associated with Christmas than John Rutter: for more than thirty years, his carols and other seasonal choral music have been an indispensable feature of Christmas celebrations worldwide. Although by no means all new, 'A Christmas Festival' contains première recordings of over a dozen brand new compositions and arrangements, together with his own selection of seasonal choral and orchestral favourites by other composers. Unless you take a very elitist and highbrow approach to your music, it is the sort of disc which is very hard not to like, and would also make a very good gift for someone new to Classical music. I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t end up our best selling Christmas disc this year.

As usual we’ve set up a special Christmas page on the website where you can browse all Christmas related discs (both new and old), as well as current best sellers, and also find listings and recommendations of popular Christmas works.

Honegger - Une Cantate de Noël

BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, Thierry Fischer

Available Format: CD

A Christmas Caroll from Westminster Abbey

Robert Quinney (organ), The Choir of Westminster Abbey, James O’Donnell

Available Format: CD

Rutter - A Christmas Festival

Melanie Marshall, Clara Sanabras & Elin Manahan Thomas, Cambridge Singers, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Farnham Youth Choir, John Rutter

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC