If you add only one Christmas CD to your collection this year, let it be this one. Not only is it an exquisitely performed selection of choral music for the season, it's for a good cause: Naxos of America will donate all proceeds from its sale to the United Way's September 11th Disaster Relief Fund. (Trinity Church is only a few hundred feet away from the site of the former World Trade Center towers. At least it survived the terrorist attacks.)
Many people, even Americans, think Christmas music should be "A Festival of Lessons and Carols" from King's College in Cambridge, England. If that is their ideal, then they will find it to be an ideal probably shared by the men and women of this choir, and by their director. This is the most "English" singing I've ever heard from an American choir, and I mean that as a compliment. The English can be unbeatable when it comes to creating a beautifully blended sound. Even words such as "cross" and "grass" are sung with a little flip of the "r," a small detail that can have a large impact over time. Granted, the Choir of Trinity Church is comprised of men and women, not men and boys in the King's tradition. Still, the women create a pure "boyish" sound without crossing over into a whitish tone. It wouldn't be wrong to call this the best of both worlds.
Many people, including Americans, think Christmas music should be brilliant and sparkly. Burdick has selected a program that dispenses with pomp and glitz in favor of more intimate treatments of the Christmas theme. Twenty-seven voices and an organ are all that are needed to convey the joy and the mystery of the Christmas message. Favorites such as "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger" are here, and so are less familiar masterpieces such as Harold Darke's "In the Bleak Midwinter" and John Rutter's arrangement of the "Sans Day Carol." If trumpets and timpani are your thing, these intensely devoted performances might be too small for you, but to my ears (and I sing in several choirs myself), this is what choral singing and the Christmas season are all about.
This recording was made in February 2001 in the Church. (It follows an acclaimed Messiah recording, also on Naxos, that has sold well over 12,000 copies at this point.) Recording engineer Leonard Manchess captures a glorious, honest sound – very unlike the coldness of a recording studio. Naxos includes texts for all of the selections, so you may sing along at home, if you like.
Happy holidays to everyone who reads Classical.net, and my best wishes to you for a happy and peace-filled 2002!
Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle