A Subscriber’s Christmas Favourites

My love for unconventional Christmas music began in my childhood, at least partially from the Diller-Page Carol Book (copyright 1935 – price $1.00) that I played Christmas carols from in my early piano studies. I still have and cherish this dogeared book. The book begins with “Ten Familiar Carols”, but my favourites were always in Part Two “Twenty Carols From Ten Foreign Lands”. These ‘foreign lands’ are not wildly foreign – they are all European, but the carols are ones not commonly heard in North America. They are often in minor keys, and express the humble wonder of the miracle of the birth of this very special child.

I can’t say I have ever been fond of popular music, and certainly listening over and over to the same small selection of secular, sanitized Christmas music in stores from the end of November to Christmas doesn’t help. Over the years as an antidote I have purchased CDs from traditions as early as Plainchant, through Renaissance, Baroque, and into the Romantic periods, and collections from many European countries – Russia, Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic, France, the British Isles, and even a few from North America.

Particular favorites in my classical collection are two by Chanticleer, a San Francisco based 12-voice a capella men’s choir, Psallite – A Renaissance Christmas and Magnificat, including works by Palestrina, Victoria and others. Chanticleer is a beautiful ensemble, perfectly balanced, sensitive and clear; they have other seasonal collections, and are also available on YouTube, Spotify, etc. Christmas Cantatas by Buxtehude, Telemann and J.S. Bach are contained in Das neugeborne Kindelein available on Accent. This is a gorgeous CD and I never tire of listening to it. Another favorite is the stately “Epiphany at St. Paul’s” sung by the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir (Helios).

I love the cheerful “Czech & Polish Songs of Christmas” sung by the Children’s Chorus of Radio Prague (Musical Heritage Society), the darker, lovely “Russian Christmas” sung by the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir (Phillips), and the wistful “Soile Isokoski” with the Finlandia Sinfonietta. One of my absolute favorites is the haunting “Oikan Ayns Bethlehem”, a mixture of solstice and early carols sung by Meredith Hall with the early music ensemble La Nef (Atma Classique). 

I have also found much beautiful Christmas music in what I would consider ‘New Age’. Loreena McKennitt has a wonderful collection of seasonal music in To Drive the Cold Winter Away (QR). I would also recommend an annual release by Windham Hill originally titled A Winter’s Solstice (there is a whole collection of them now – available via this link) with tracks by each of their artists – some carols, some original works, all seasonally connected – different, heartfelt and gorgeous. George Winston, also a Windham Hill artist, has put out a lovely solo piano album entitled December.

I love the sound of the hammered dulcimer and feel it is particularly suited to Christmas seasonal music. I would recommend two beautiful disks by Maggie Sansone and Ensemble Galilei (recorders, concertina, psaltery, harp, strings) Ancient Noels, described as “Traditional carols, medieval cantigas and Renaissance dances bring to life images of desert landscapes and stone monasteries where the spirit of Christmas was born”, and Sounds of the Season, a collection of more traditional Christmas carols and dances (Maggie’s music).

I wish you joy this Christmas season and hope you find the perfect music to accompany your celebrations – however unusual they may be!

Janet Parkins
December 2020

Janet Parkins is a retired pharmacist, lifelong music lover, and proud subscriber to Chamber Music Kelowna who immigrated to Coldstream, BC from California in 1995. Janet studies voice at the Kelowna Community Music School, and has sung in the Okanagan Symphony Chorus since 2010. She volunteers with the North Okanagan Community Concert Association as Artistic Director, the Vernon Folk Roots Music Society, and the Vernon Proms.

Photo: Janet’s partner, Jim Boyd (left); Rosemary Thomson (centre); Janet Parkins (right); credit Janet Parkins.

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