Rejoice is a wonderful CD Beautiful String quartet and a fabulous recording
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I can't disagree with the Messiah recommendations above, but if you're looking for something different, Harmonia Mundi has a three disc version of the Messiah with Nicholas McGeagan and the Philharmonia Baroque which is very well recorded (as is anything from that label--good recommendation, cornfedboy, for On Yoolis Night) and has ALL of the various versions of the Messiah (I think there are nine), including all of the different variations of the arias for different voices. You can program your player to play whichever version you want, unless you have a spartan high-end transport from some foreign country like I do which doesn't have such a simple convenience. If you've never heard a countertenor you'll get a kick out of this disc. McGeagan's tempos are faster than you may be used to, as well, and it's a small ensemble and choir, but I enjoy it very much. And for another suggestion, the series of recordings by the Cambridge Singers on Collegium ars very nice.
Two favorites of mine which are also excellent audiophile quality are "Thys Yool-A Medieval Christmas" by the Martin Best Ensemble, Nimbus (NI 5137), and also "Noels Celtiques", Celtic Christmas Music from Brittany.Traditional and contem- porary choral music sung in Breton. It has a real presence, and very natural sound. (Green Linnet Records, GLCD-3124) Also don't miss "The Bells of Dublin" by the Chieftains,with guests Nanci Griffith,Rickie Lee Jones,Jackson Browne, the McGarrigle sisters, and Elvis Costello; Elvis'track is worth the price of the CD alone.
As I looked through my collection, here's another--The Many Moods of Christmas, which Robert Shaw recorded both on RCA and later with Telarc. A full orchestral recording, with four suites of carol arrangements. I find it more interesting than the standard orchestra and chorus arrangements from the likes of Ormandy, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, etc., and a LOT better recorded. Thanks for the recommendation on Noels Celtiques, Gasman; I'll look for it.
Mannheim Steamroller's 3 albums are quite nice and have many different pieces along with the standard fare - interesting arrangements. And of course Arthur Fiedler's "Pop's Christmas Party" originally released on RCA I believe in 1959 is a true classic of orchestral performances of modern and traditional classics. It is also on CD.
Ella Fitzgerald "Swinging Christmas" on Verve records, very cool holiday jive.......also Dolly Parton "Home for Christmas" on Columbia, Smokey Mt style christmas with Dolly's charming style.....both records above average sound, but not audiophile quality.......My favorite campy holiday song is undoubtly Bing Crosby "Melle Kalikimaka" hawaiian christmas song contained on many of his MCA christmas Cds. Most Bing Christmas albums are poor sound recordings unfortunately.
Something else a little different: "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Lava Records). I don't know that the sound qualifies as "audiophile", but it certainly is dynamic. The acoustic guitar solos are particularly stunning on my system. The story this CD tells is rather maudlin (what Christmas story isn't?) but the new music and the arrangements of old standards are all great. I play this CD all year around. I believe that this work has also been performed as a TV special - watch for it as the holiday grows near.
Sinatra's Jolly X-mas on MoFi is pretty good. BUT, the old time best for me, and also my standard test CD for male vocals, is a CD of traditional X-mas music sung in Enlgish by an Italian group called Neri Per Caso. The group is composed of three brothers and their two cousins, all men in their mid twenties from Naples (a city with a great vocal tradition). They are actually a successful pop group in Italy, with at least one # 1 hit a few years back (Le Ragazze). The thing is, most of their songs are sung entirely a cappella, they do amazing 5 part harmony, and they have a wizard for a recording engineer. Their version of "God Rest Ye.." will raise goosebumps on your arm..and my Guarneri's LOVE these guys (must be an Italian thing). On some songs from their most recent CD's,the soundstage is truly wrap-around. Not sure where you'd get it in the US..but this disc is THAT good. Wish I could let you all borrow my copy....
Steve/Tubegroover - I'll do better. I will ask my borther to burn a copy on his CD-R and mail it to one of you as X-mas present PROVIDED you pass it on to the other one. Let me know if you are interested. Who wants to be first? As for the details - here's the full discography of the group 1. Neri Per Caso - "Le Ragazze" 1995 Easy Records Italiana (distributed by Sony Music). Catalog number ESY 478565 2. Debut album, in Italian, all a cappella. Printed in Holland 2. Neri Per Caso "Strumenti"1996 ESY 48311 2 (Sony/BMG). Second album, some instruments introduced, but mostly percussion and sparingly used. In Italian. Trakc s 4, 6, 7, and 9 are absolutley brilliant (holographic, wrap around soundstaging) 3. Neri Per Caso (no title) 1997. EMI Music Italy EMI 4 93132 0. Interactive CD. My least fave., bu very cool a cappella version of Jamming. Mostly in Italina 4. Neri Per Caso (no title). This is the X-mas album. Need to get it back from my brother for details. Sorry! Released in 1998 and, as far as I know, the only album they did that year.
The Simpsons "Sing the Blues". BMG/Geffen 1990. No holiday songs on this but it is festive for a family/friends gathering and I assume that everyone young and old can relate to the cartoon character's voices that sing the lyrics. Guest musicians include B.B. King, Roger McGuinn, Dr. John, John Sebastian and Tower of Power's horn section. Who knows, you may decide to get out the old Bill Cosby albums after listening to this. Fairly well recorded as well, it sounds good on our setup.
Steve/Tubegroover - I mailed the CD ROM copy to Steve last week. He shold be getting this week. Would love to hear what you think, so please post and/or send me a private e-mail. I recevied ther latest CD (ANgelo Blu), and was disappointed. There are only two a cappella songs in the the disc, and the rest is a bit too "pop" for me. However..one of the a cappella offerings is an awesome arrangement of The Beatles "Here, There and Everywhere". Still, if you want to listen to other stuff by them, recommend you stick with "Le Ragazze" which was 100% vocal.
I've got one more. It came in after x-mas but it is superb. A Morman Tabernacle Choir X-mas with Orchestra at Temple Square. Recorded in March of 2000 on Telarc. Traditional and some pieces I haven't heard. Very good arrangements. The sound is a bit muddy as Telarc is on most of their choral recordings but the music transends that shortcoming. A must for choir lovers.