Culture > Music

Music: A crossover Christmas

Music | Christmas music unites diverse musical styles

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 1999," Dec. 18, 1999

Taste in musical styles often divides people, but most Americans love traditional Christmas music. This year, several artists-classical, opera, and even rock performers-crossed over, successfully, into the realm of Christmas music. A Christmas Pastorale fills more than 60 minutes with guitar settings of carols, chorales, preludes, and pastorales, those peaceful works that evoke pastoral, or shepherd, scenes. Guitarists Laura Oltman and Michael Newman display a solid ensemble and an uncanny sense of timing. Their folk pieces like "Greensleeves" (in two settings) show sheer lyric beauty. In virtuoso works like Bach's "In dulci jubilo" ("In Sweetest Joy"), the duo plays fearlessly. But the jewel of this CD is Miguel Llobet's "El Noi de la Mare" ("The Son of Mary"). Serious guitarists will enjoy owning A Christmas Pastorale. In a different vein is DG's (www.dgclassics.com) fresh-sounding Home for Christmas. Anne Sofie von Otter, a rising Swedish star, joins the many female opera vocalists crossing into pop, folk, and ethnic music. She embraces texts in English, Italian, French, and German and provides fresh, arresting settings of familiar carols like "I Wonder as I Wander." Even her American pop style in "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas" easily convinces listeners. Ms. von Otter claims to have no interest in religion, but her album has a clear Christian presentation in, for example, "Spread Your Wings." Despite lapses like "Deck the Halls" in a Scandinavian polka format, the album displays a consistent track of historical Christianity. Transcending operatic vocal gymnastics and speaking clearly in artistic terms about the Christian celebration, the album still shows the usual fascination with trees, snow, and lights. Joy: A Holiday Collection, from teenage singer Jewel, successfully mingles country rock, gospel, and sacred traditional. The crooning melodic twists around "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and similar carols reveal Jewel's pure vocal quality and maturing country style. She has an easy high range (in "O Holy Night" and "Ave Maria"), but usually stays in her trademark low, breathy style. Joy has a hookup, via computer website, to a video of Jewel in the studio recording tracks to "Gloria." This song is the best on the album, with muted strings, organ, and harp contributing to its transcendent quality. Sophisticated as a soloist in a gospel/soul setting of "Go Tell it on the Mountain," Jewel excels in several duets with her mother. She seems so comfortable in different styles that with vocal training, she should survive a rising career and have a voice left for her 40s. Doesn't the popularity of Christmas music among such a diverse group of performers suggest the truth of what is hinted at throughout the Christmas season: the universal, reconciling Lordship of Christ?

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