The best new Christmas classical music releases

We round up some of this season’s best festive albums

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The best new Christmas classical music releases
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Advent Carols from King’s College London
The Choir of King’s College, London/Joseph Fort
Delphian DCD34226

A beautifully atmospheric recording of the Advent service from King’s College, London. Don’t miss the new pieces, especially George Benjamin’s and Kerensa Briggs’s.

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Christmas 
The Gesualdo Six/Owain Park
Hyperion CDA68299

A delightful album by an all-male a cappella group is hard to come by – all too often they’re po-faced or schmaltzy; but this is neither. An elegant blend of old and new. 

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In dulci jubilo 
Harmonia Sacra/Peter Leech
Nimbus NI 6391

All the words from your favourite carols, but unexpected music galore – thanks to interesting new settings by a varied quartet of composers. Well sung, though the sound is quite close. 

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Schütz: The Christmas Story & Other Works
Yale Schola Cantorum/David Hill
Hyperion CDA68315

Schütz’s Italianate oratorio is one of the masterpieces of the early Baroque and is performed beautifully here. Voices and instruments are superbly balanced within the rich recorded texture. 

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Adventa
Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet), Heida Arnadottir (voals), Hilmar Jensson (guitar), Kristin Thora Haraldsdottir (viola), Eirikus Orri Olafsson (trumpet)
Winter & Winter 910 260-2

Your bleak Christmas starts here. Based on Icelandic folklore, this musical poem is dark, brooding and often eerily atmospheric. Beautiful, yes, but ‘Jingle Bells’ it most certainly isn’t.

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Make we Merry
Benenden Chapel Choir, London Metropolitan Brass
Regent REGCD547

The merriment here is rather sober, but not without its charms. There’s some welcome sparkle in Bednall’s brass writing and Chilcott’s entry has a wistfully sweet innocence.

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O Holy Night
London Choral Sinfonia/Michael Waldron
Orchid Classics ORC 100110

A substantial Christmas banquet from Michael Waldron and a rich-toned LCS, bringing together carols both traditional and modern. Warming. 

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Now May We Singen: Music for Advent and Christmas
Ben Bloor (organ), Choir of Westminster School/Timothy Garrard
Signum Classics SIGCD595

As school choirs go, Westminster School’s is rather fine, its dynamic range and blend top notch. An ambitious yet attractive programme. 

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Nowell synge we bothe al and som: A Feast of Christmas Music in Medieval England
Gothic Voices
Linn CKD591

Gothic Voices will shortly mark its 40th anniversary, and celebrates with Nowell synge we bothe al and som, a new programme of medieval songs and motets for the Christmas season. The material is a mix of plainchant and polyphony, arranged for various combinations of the ensemble’s four members.

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A Spanish Nativity
Stile Antico
Harmonia Mundi HMM902312

Alonso Lobo’s Missa Beata Dei genitrix Maria is the anchor work in A Spanish Nativity, a new disc from the 12-voice British ensemble Stile Antico. Their ability to rivet attention is immediately obvious in an introspective and raptly controlled account of the Missa’s opening Kyrie, while the poignant Agnus Dei highlights the group’s lithe expressivity and immaculate tuning. 

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The Waiting Sky: Music for Advent and Christmas
Sansara
Resonus Classics RES10250

Sansara released an acclaimed debut album two years ago, and its new disc The Waiting Sky adopts a similar formula of mixing old and new music. On the contemporary side, the palpitating rhythms of Judith Weir’s ‘Ave Regina caelorum’ draws a featherlight nimbleness from the choir’s 16 voices.

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The Secret Life of Carols: 800 Years of Christmas Music
The Telling
First Hand FHR094 

How did Christmas music sound in the medieval world? We don’t know for sure, but The Telling is a group specialising in that period, and in The Secret Life of Carols they delve back centuries for answers. With two harpists sharing the accompaniments the aesthetic is sparse, suggesting an intimate domestic setting. The overall effect is aurally cleansing, and the recorded sound is outstanding. 

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Nuit de Noël
Sofi Jennin, Maîtrise de Radio France, Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien, Le Poème Harmonique (early music ensemble), Isabelle Druet, Claire Lefilliâtre, Bruno Bonhoure, La Camera della Lacrime, Ensemble Clément Janequin (early music ensemble), Yves Castagnet, Henri Chalet, Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris, Amandine Beyer (violin), Céline Frisch (early keyboard instruments), Pablo Valetti, Café Zimmermann (early music ensemble), Bruno Cocset (cello), Ensemble Pygmalion (early music ensemble), Gli Incogniti (early music ensemble), Sophie Watillon, Thomas Dunford (lute), Lucile Boulanger, Jean Rondeau (early keyboard instruments), Ensemble 415 (chamber ensemble), Le Concert Spirituel (early music ensemble), Zefira Valova, Alexis Kossenko, Les Ambassadeurs (early music ensemble), Vox Luminis, François Lazarevitch, Vincent Dumestre, Dominique Visse, Lionel Meunier, Raphaël Pichon, Chiara Banchini, Herve Niquet
Alpha ALPHA571

There’s a delicious tang and freshness to the singing and the period-instrument accompaniments. A second disc has random ‘greatest hits’ of Baroque music, including Bach’s Magnificat, Handel’s Dixit Dominus, and Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. 

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Christmas at St George’s Windsor
The Choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle/James Vivian; Luke Bond (organ)
Hyperion CDA68281

Where recordings are concerned, the Choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle has often been overshadowed by London’s cathedral choirs and the leading college choirs of Oxford and Cambridge. But two recent royal weddings have put St George’s firmly in the spotlight, and this new disc shows its all-male choir is a force to be reckoned with. Conductor James Vivian deserves major credit for his preparation of the singers, whose dedication and artistry make this a deeply satisfying recital.

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Buy the Christmas 2019 issue of BBC Music Magazine for full reviews of the above discs, as well as some of the other greatest Christmas music releases this year.

 

Listen to our playlist of the best Christmas albums here

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