Various Artists

Angels: Christmas with the Great Sopranos

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This album's title, Angels: Christmas with the Great Sopranos, wisely leaves some latitude of interpretation about exactly what type of repertoire is included; this isn't all necessarily Christmas music, but there's nothing that stands out as musically inappropriate for the season. It helps to try to forget the original contexts of some of the selections, particularly Desdemona's "Ave Maria," and the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana arranged with the "Ave Maria" text. Other pieces, like Brahms' Lullaby and "I know that my Redeemer liveth" from Messiah, have nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas, but musically they fit fine with the mix of serene or joyful music for the holiday. Each of the selections is a delight in its own way, and the album should please any fans of operatic singing, except for those who are disgruntled because a particular favorite soprano isn't included. Highlights include Joan Sutherland's artlessly direct singing of "Good King Wenceslas," Barbara Bonney's gleaming account of Mozart's "Laudate Dominum," and Sylvia McNair's serenely radiant "I know that my Redeemer liveth." The recordings, made between 1961 and 2005, aren't consistent in sound quality, but none are less than acceptable. The accompaniments, likewise, vary in quality, from the sophistication of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields to the Vienna Philharmonic's lackadaisical approach to intonation. The compilation provides adequate information for the listener to locate the albums from which each selection is taken.

Track Listing

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 4:30
2 4:22
Requiem, for 2 solo voices, chorus, organ & orchestra, Op. 48
3 3:49
4 3:03
5 4:48
6 1:37
Otello, opera
7 6:02
Vesperae solennes de confessore for soloists, chorus & orchestra, K. 339
8 4:58
Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56
9 5:28
10 2:38
Cantata No. 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben," BWV 147 (BC A174)
11 2:50
Samson, oratorio, HWV 57
12 5:58
13 2:51
14 3:22
15 3:15
Exsultate, jubilate, motet for soprano & orchestra, K. 165 (K. 158a)
16 2:32
blue highlight denotes track pick