Classics get a contemporary touch

By John Fleming, Times Performing Arts Critic
Published November 29, 2007

With nary a Messiah among them, here's a sampling of classical, jazz and easy listening holiday CDs out this year.

Jacqui Naylor: Smashed for the Holidays (Ruby Star Records) - Jazz and pop singer Naylor is known for "acoustic smashing," in which she combines standards with rock classics (say, the lyrics of Gershwin's Summertime and the music of the Allman Brothers' Whipping Post), and it worked remarkably well in her 2006 album Color Five. Now she applies her mixing and matching to Christmas music (Santa Claus is Coming to Town over Sweet Home Alabama) and also performs some terrific originals, such as Celebrate Early and Often, in her smoky style. Grade: A

BBC Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Chorus; David Zinman, conductor: Karolju (RCA) - Carmina Burana meets Christmas carols in Christopher Rouse's Karolju, a splashy 11-movement work for orchestra and choir. Premiered in 1991 and recorded here for the first time, it captures the joy of the season in delightful fashion. Also on the CD are Lutoslawski's Polish Christmas Carols and Rodrigo's Retablo de Navidad. Grade: A

Andrew T. Miller: The Birth of Christ (Sony) - American composer Miller premiered his Christmas cantata, from the gospel of Luke, at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, with a choir of Catholic and Protestant singers to symbolize the unity of the nativity story. Symbolism aside, this live recording documents a fine performance of a work worth investigating by orchestras and choruses and listeners in search of new seasonal repertoire. Grade: A-

Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Spirit of the Season (Mormon Tabernacle Choir) - The Mormons are a reliable source of Christmas cheer. Their latest CD features Norwegian pop star Sissel, whose innocent purity of tone is put to good use in Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Maria Wiegenlied, Vitae Lux and a selection of Scandinavian songs. Grade: B+

Ryland Angel: The New Voice of Christmas (Koch) - English countertenor Angel, a onetime choir boy who now ranges from opera to pop, has a penchant for lush studio treatments of his gorgeous voice in Be Thou My Vision, Away in a Manger, In the Bleak Midwinter and other traditional favorites. Grade: B

John Fleming can be reached at (727) 893-8716 or fleming@sptimes.com.