New Classical Tracks: Christmas, from Bryn Terfel

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
December 14, 2010
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St. Paul, Minn. — I'll admit when I first saw this recording of "Carols and Christmas Songs" come across my desk a few months ago, with its pictures of the famous Welsh bass-baritone wearing a red and blue wool scarf, and artificial snow fluttering around his lashes, I wasn't sure what to expect. Once I popped the first CD into the player, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only does Terfel offer some spectacular arrangements of familiar carols, on the second bonus CD in this set we hear several of those same carols translated into Terfel's native Welsh. Add to that various guest artists including Bing Crosby (thanks to modern technology), harpist Catrin Finch, and tenor Rolando Villazon and you have a new Christmas classic.

What's most striking about these "Carols and Christmas Songs" with Bryn Terfel are the first-class arrangements by Chris Hazell and Mack Wilberg. There is something unique about every carol, so every time you listen you may hear something you didn't hear the first time around. Bryn Terfel offers a heartfelt interpretation of his personal favorite, "Still, Still, Still." Mack Wilberg arranges this traditional Austrian carol with a gentle string accompaniment. The Welsh choir Cordydd joins in on the second verse. For a rare holiday treat flip over to the second CD, the Welsh bonus disc. Here, Terfel sings this carol in his native tongue which gives this gorgeous carol even deeper meaning. Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon joins Terfel to share the story of the birth of baby Jesus in the Spanish carol "El Nacimiento." The blend of their voices on this peaceful lullaby is exquisite.

The first CD is enjoyable with its many classic carols; however, the Welsh bonus disc is riveting. The 20th century carol, "To Bethlehem," arranged by Chris Hazell, is one I kept listening to over and over again. This powerful song is enriched by the sounds of the Welsh pop choir "Only Men Aloud," and Welsh soprano Gwawr Edwards.

For many of us, including Bryn Terfel, Christmas is about family. That's one reason he invited the Nidus Children's choir to join him to sing the one carol that probably every child knows, "Away in a Manger." This nationally-recognized Welsh children's choir, made up of about two dozen singers between the ages of 7 and 10, gives this familiar carol a sweet angelic touch.

My favorite part of the season is curling up by the Christmas tree watching the lights quietly blink. It's that reflective moment which is delicately captured in the carol "Christmas, Who Knows?" This carol features the subtle strains of harpist Catrin Finch. She's featured on several of these carols, but on this piece, she's going solo with Bryn Terfel. Its simple beauty is captivating.

This new holiday collection of "Carols and Christmas Songs" features gorgeous arrangements, wonderful collaborations, and a rare opportunity to hear Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel sing in his native tongue. While you may be tempted to judge this new holiday CD by its cover, I suggest you open this delightful Christmas gift from Bryn Terfel and revel in it.

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