“December Celebration: New Carols by Seven American Composers” [TrackList follows] – Lisa Delan (sop.)/ Lester Lynch (bar.)/ Musicians of the New Century Chamber Orch. & Volti Chorus/ Dawn Harms – Pentatone multichannel SACD PTC 5186 537, 57:06 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Here is an interesting and refreshing CD for the holiday season. The disc is a cornucopia of new music by active and well-known composers. The sound, to start with, is pure Pentatone multichannel splendor, and Gordon Getty, one of their house composers, is to be congratulated for compiling this set of lovely music. This is not blow-you-away Christmas music; it’s not even all Christmas, but “seasonal”. Mostly it is reflective and rather sentimental, and I’ll admit to being a little disappointed with Adamo’s The Christmas Life and Heggie’s On the Road to Christmas. The latter especially, being one of the most gifted lyrical composers I know of, seems to put the gears in neutral in his cycle of interesting texts (including those by Frederica von Stade and Emily Dickinson!) with songs that circle the so-so wagon, devoid of real punch. The Joan Morris and William Bolcom piece is cute and makes a nice filler.

Things really pick up with the Luna Pearl Woolf song for baritone, treble chorus, harp, percussion, and string orchestra. This is a sparkling bit of musical poetry (having to do with the winter solstice) that far surpasses the rather bloated text. Getty’s own contribution, for women’s chorus and chamber orchestra, dominates, quality-wise, everything on this disc, even though David Garner’s gorgeous Three Carols for soprano, baritone, oboe, frame drum, and strings contains a substantial and intricate O magnum mysterium that is superlative in every way. Though I liked it, Corigliano’s Christmas at the Cloisters proves a tad jarring with its loud use of a Hammond organ, but a balm is quickly applied with Getty’s fine arrangement of Silent Night that closes out the disc. All in all, this is easily assimilated new music of a very high quality, perfect for this time of the year.

Adamo: The Christmas Life
Bolcom: Neighbors on this frosty tide (Carol)
Corigliano: Christmas at the Cloisters
Garner: Three Carols
Getty: Four Christmas Carols
Gruber: Stille Nacht (arr. Gordon Getty)
Heggie: On the Road to Christmas
Woolf: How Bright the Darkness

—Steven Ritter