November 26, 2020

And One Final List of Christmas Favorites

Nativity, Francesca

Yesterday, Jeff and I posted lists of some favorite Christmas albums. Music is such an important part of the Advent and Christmas season! I got into a habit early in our adult life of buying Christmas CD’s as gifts to mark my wife’s November birthday (she loves music as much as I do), and so over the years we’ve been able to build up quite a sizable collection.

Yesterday, I gave a list of five (OK, I cheated: six) favorite records representing more contemporary styles. Now I want to share a list of more traditional sounds — choral, brass, etc.

Christmas is one time of year when people will take time to listen to and enjoy types of music that don’t necessarily fit their “tastes” or preferences. Some may want praise bands rather than organ and choirs week in and week out at their contemporary evangelical church, but they don’t mind (in fact, they may insist upon) a more traditional approach at Christmas.

Here is my list of favorites.

Quink Vocal Ensemble: Carols Around the World

Sublime, ethereal a capella vocal music. The Quink Vocal Ensemble is from the Netherlands and has gained an international reputation as one of the top a capella ensembles in the world. This recording contains 26 carols from various Western traditions, with an emphasis on English, French, and German carols.

If you enjoy this kind of music, you might also check out recordings by Chanticleer, Anonymous 4, The Dale Warland Singers, The Sixteen, The Tallis Scholars.

James Galway’s Christmas Carol

This is one of the best overall programs on one CD. Galway is joined by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra along with John Birch and the BBC Singers to present a good blend of classic Christmas music and classical favorites, presented with Galway’s usual sense of taste. Emotionally rich and satisfying.

There are many live-performances (such as those shown on PBS at Christmas time) that have been recorded, exemplifying well-rounded traditional and festive Christmas programs. Some of my favorites include those featuring Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, and The King’s Singers.

Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity

We own every one of John Rutter’s Christmas albums, and I could have put any of them here and been satisfied. Christmas Night is the most serene, with the Cambridge Singers and The City of London Sinfonia providing a good modern example of Anglican cathedral choir music at its finest.

Rutter’s other Christmas offerings include: Christmas with the Cambridge Singers, Carols from Clare, The Holly and the Ivy, Christmas Day in the Morning, A Christmas Star, Candlelight: Seasonal Reflections And Celebrations, A Christmas Festival, John Rutter Christmas Album.

Christmas with London Brass

This was another tough choice. I love my Canadian Brass Christmas albums, and I would put any of them up here without reservation. The London Brass recording is thoroughly pleasing too. I like their inclusion of the “Winter” section from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which blends well with the traditional and lesser known carols to make up an excellent program.

Canadian Brass Christmas recordings include: A Canadian Brass Christmas, Christmas Tradition, The Christmas Album, The Canadian Brass Noel, Sweet Songs of Christmas, and Christmas Experiment.

The Choir of Trinity College: Carols from Trinity

Rutter’s choral albums are in a category of their own because of Rutter’s compositional contributions, but there are many fine recordings of traditional and classic Christmas choir music. My favorite is this one, which contains 56 of the finest Christmas carols, anthems, and motets from medieval times to the present, performed and recorded in Trinity College Chapel.

Other good choral carol albums to consider: The Carol Album I and II: Seven Centuries of Christmas Music, with the Taverner Consort directed by Andrew Parrot; recordings from King’s College Choir, choirs directed by Robert Shaw, David Willcocks or Paul Hillier, and Joel Cohen with the Boston Camerata.

A final word: Don’t forget the classics — Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah, The Nutcracker, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, and many compilation albums with various classical programs.


  1. I was thinking of John Michael Talbot’s Advent Suite would be a good one for this list.

  2. I’ll be run out of here on a rail, but I can’t stand John Rutter’s music. At this time of year, you can often see me lunging across the kitchen to change the station on the wireless as soon as the choir starts up 🙂

    Just to put the tin lid on me being an unmusical wretch, here’s a brain-melting Christmas video for ye all: The Priests and Shane MacGowan duetting (trioing? quarteting?) on a mix of “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth”.

    (I don’t like “The Little Drummer Boy” as a song either; years back, when the music teacher tried to teach us to sing it in the school choir, I got a fit of the giggles at the “rum-rum-rum” bit we had to do and disgraced myself, so that’s why I have unholy glee in seeing it treated like this).

    Yes, they’re real singing priests (I realise that sounds like an Irish joke, but it’s based on the truth). They’re all parish priests from the Diocese of Down and Connor in the North of Ireland; they studied together – both in seminary and as singers – and they released a couple of albums and did some concerts.

    And now they’re joining up with Shane MacGowan (yes, that Shane MacGowan out of The Pogues) for a Christmas song. Warning: either your brain will melt, or you will drift off into a diabetic coma from the sugary sweetness of it all:

    • Martha, until I learned of your distaste for Rutter (in last year’s music post) I thought you were perfect. Well, well, the doctrine of depravity is safe once more.

      • It’s Original Sin, that’s what it is, Chaplain Mike 🙂

        I think it’s that the sound Rutter produces from the choir is a little too sweet to my ears; I prefer a drier tone or a bit more sharpness or something. I tend to like early music, folk/world music (the “raw bar”, as it’s termed in Irish traditional music, meaning something plain, unaccompanied, un-professional-sounding), and less emotional expression in the music (that is, let the music carry the meaning, rather than emoting all over the place). Less sentiment, more restraint. Or if expressive of emotion, more Dowland’s melancholy than Schubert’s cheer.

        More or less along the lines of this definition of the Baroque voice: “Generally, the qualities most valued in the Baroque voice were agility, purity and clarity, even at the expense of the power which characterizes today’s operatic voice.”

        So merry warbling Christmas carols – not so much my thing, unless it’s something like the Coventry Carol, which commemorates the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.


    • Speak of the Pogues, my favorite Christmas song has got to be “Fairy Tale of New York”. There’s just something endearing about a song that starts off with “Twas Christmas Eve, in the drunk tank” I guess I like the fact that it isn’t as sacchariney as many songs of this season are!

  3. Rutter is wonderful. Just lovely. In fact, that is the case with just about all of this music.

  4. I know it’s not of the same genre as most of your favorites, but check out Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God.” I just saw it performed live the other night, and I’m still smiling.

    • I’ve heard about that, Darcyjo, and will have to check it out. I think from what I’ve heard that this selection would fall on my first list that I posted the other day. Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Some excellent choices.
    We must be getting close to Christmas. I visited the men’s restroom at a pie shop last night and piped in was Handel’s “Alleluia Chorus”.