Sunday, December 19, 2010

Last minute Christmas gift ideas from A Web of Fine Music

Hard to believe, but we're less than a week away from Christmas Day, and judging by the lines of cars entering mall parking lots in Niagara this weekend, lots of people are still out there looking for the perfect gift for that special someone. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't recommend a few good holiday recordings available through my website, A Web of Fine Music ( in time for Christmas gift-giving. As of this writing, all these are currently in stock and ready to go; all you have to do is email me either through the website or directly at

This is turning into the must-have Christmas disc of the season. Anyone who knows the group Pink Martini will not be the least bit surprised this disc is a hot item: they are wonderfully creative and inventive, with every track getting a thorough re-working and coming out sounding almost brand-new. The music is largely standard Christmas fare: White Christmas, Santa Baby, Little Drummer Boy, Do You Hear What I Hear? and We Three Kings are some of the more familiar tracks. Reflecting the international flavour of the disc, we also hear Shchedryk (Ukrainian Bell Carol), La Vergine Degli Angeli and Ocho Kandelikas. A nice touch, the lyrics are reprinted in the accompanying booklet in several different languages. The album graphics are first rate, as is the production of the disc itself, and this collection rates a strong 4 out of 4 stars.

The retro graphics set the tone for this new recording with the Seattle Symphony, sounding just fine, thank you very much, on the popular Naxos label. The collection features some pretty standard fare, including several selections from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ( Miniature Overture; March; Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy; Russian Dance and the Waltz of the Flowers), plus several pieces from the Water Music Suites by Handel, which is a nice addition. Also heard are the ubiquitous Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel, and the Christmas carols Gesu Bambino and Coventry Carol. The production values are first-rate, which is typical of the Naxos engineering team, and the orchestra sounds in fine form. Granted, they break no new ground here, but the programming is varied enough you'll enjoy listening to this disc time and time again. Holiday Classics rates a respectable 3 out of 4 stars.

A brand-new disc out just in time for the holidays, this collection of carols both old and new features the soprano voice of Monica Whicher, described by The Guardian as"poignantly expressive" teamed with acclaimed harpist Judy Loman, former Principal Harpist with the Toronto Symphony. Loman also did many of the arrangements on this disc, incidentally, and her music-making is always a joy to hear. Some of the familiar carols given lovely treatments here are The Garden of Jesus; In the Bleak Mid-Winter; Noel Nouvelet; Six Noels Pour la Harpe; and In Dulci Jubilo. The recording, made in Newmarket, Ontario's St. John Chrysostom Church earlier this year, has a lovely warm sound to it, and the performances are both first-rate. This is the disc for after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, as you're setting the milk and cookies out for a special visitor overnight. I really like this disc, and it rates a strong 4 out of 4 stars.

I don't quite know what it is about the music of Bach, but it lends itself to so many different interpretations, both classical and otherwise, it is hard to find a bad recording of Bach's music at all. He was such a prolific writer of music for Christmas, too, you have a perfect opportunity to take liberties with his original music and make something uniquely different and special, which is what arranger Bill Dobbins has done on this brand-new recording of Bach's Christmas Oratorio. The King's Singers are totally in control here, keeping the meaning of the music in focus throughout, in spite of the decidedly jazzy arrangements provided by Dobbins. This may not be a disc for the purists, but rather, those open-minded individuals who also happened to enjoy the big-band Christmas presentation offered by Chorus Niagara last year at this time. This set is an adventure! It rates a positive 4 out of 4 stars.

I think everyone grew up listening to this disc, coming out as it did in the 60s when James Last was at the peak of his popularity. I took a long time to make it to disc, however, but the wait was worth it. The sound is quite amazing given the age of the recording, and the arrangements, although showing their age just a bit, still are fun to listen to today. I can't imagine many actually 'dancing' to this music, but listening will be easy: Last just knows how to handle a good tune and make it fun. Most of the medleys are made up of German carols, although some familiar international carols can be heard, including Silent Night and I Wonder as I Wander. Go ahead, listen to this disc again and relive those heady days of the 60s when people thought we could do just about anything! Christmas Dancing rates a respectable 3 out of 4 stars.

Just a few items of interest this week; remember, all of these are currently in stock as of this writing, but don't delay. If you're interested in more information, go to my website at or email me at and I will take care of the rest.

The countdown is on - let's enjoy the ride!

December 19th, 2010.

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