I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to shoot something when “Jingle Bells” starts blaring November 1. Overkill, people. But around this time (like, the week before Christmas), I really start to get into the spirit of things, and start playing Christmas music.
Some pieces I listen to year-round, because they don’t have specifically (modern) Christmas associations. Many of these songs I only know because I sang them in university choir (thanks, Dick!), and they include:
My #1 favourite, “Cantique de Jean Racine” by Faure. This has a special place in my heart because I’ve sung in it (soprano, alto, and tenor), accompanied it, and conducted it, and I still never get tired of it. The harmony is so lush, and the piece is melancholy yet uplifting – ach, sigh. It took me ages to find a recording that I liked (above).
“O Magnum Mysterium”, Morten Lauridsen. Gives meaning to the word “unearthly”. This one frequently brings tears to my eyes; truly heavenly to sing, and hear.
“Amen” from Handel’s Messiah. Yeah, yeah, we all know the Hallelujah Chorus, but for me the last bit is where my heart leaps to the heavens, especially on the fortissimo high G in the sopranos and tenors. Gorgeous.
Other ones: “Panis Angelicus” (I find I prefer a tenor to treble soloist), Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum” (a bit overplayed, but lovely just the same), and Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” (love it). Oh, and Franz Liszt’s “Ave Maria”. I could on and on.
Of the more folk-y, carol-y pieces:
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Okay, it’s an Advent hymn, but there is nothing – nothing – like hearing a 70-strong choir singing it a cappella, as they come into a candlelit church, and hearing six verses sung with increasing strength until the final descant.
“O Holy Night.” I prefer the straight versions, sung without embellishment, without ornamentation, letting the music shine through. Pavarotti’s version ranks high.
“The Holly and the Ivy”. When I hear this song, I see a child whirling its arms as snow comes sprinkling down, then the camera pans up to show an elf sitting in a tree, shaking a bucket of snow down on the child. Don’t ask me why, because that’s not what the song’s about.
And, okay, it’s totally modern, but I like it: “All I Want for Christmas Is You”. The version I’ve included isn’t the Mariah Carey (who does a bang-up job), but Olivia Olson from Love Actually, who, along with the rest of the choir and the awesome audience (and yeah, okay, high production value), possibly does an even banger-up job than La Carey.