You will be aware of three striking elements on this record, from the minute you press play. The first is the quality of the performances. These are top-level musicians bringing their same superlative artistry to Christmas favorites that they do to a Schubert quartet or Taverner score. The second is the sterling quality of the recording. If there is a sonic equivalent to sipping a hot toddy while curled up before a roaring fire, it is Sono Lumi- nus’s peerless mixes and captures. Third–and in every way as essential as the previous two–this is a kaleidoscopic collection of styles and interpretations of beloved songs and carols that keeps me eager for the next number. If you’re like me, four tracks in to just about any single artist’s Christmas album, I am ready to move on. With such a fetching variety of artists and approaches, I find myself going top-to-tail on this one.
Simplicity is an underrated avenue when it comes to holiday releases, so the entries by Irina Muresanu & Matei Varga, Bruce Levingston, Kathryn Bates, and Skylark Vocal Ensemble are a breath of proverbial fresh air. Muresanu’s seductive playing is a glimpse into the golden age of violin technique–lush vibrato and delicious sentimentality, which infuses “White Christmas” with every bit of nostalgia one could hope for. One can imagine twirling 19th century gowns in Levingston’s solo piano rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Christmas,” with frictionless phrasing that plays like freshly sharpened skates on virgin ice. Heading over to cellist Kathryn Bates’s reimagining of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” we are tucked into a bed of extravagant resonance, spinning arpeggios, and all the anticipation and delightful impatience of a child for whom morning cannot arrive soon enough. And of course, Skylark. I’ve still got their devastatingly gorgeous album Crossing Over (DSL-92200) in regular rotation, and with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” this chamber choir presents an intoxicating wistfulness that will find the listener awaking to find herself gazing out an ice-encrusted window when the final notes fade