Various Artists

Spirit of Christmas Past [Nimbus]

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Although one might be able to think of a dozen or more Christmas albums issued in the era of LPs considerable as being "Classics" of Yuletide fare on record, not very many CDs have come along so far that are truly worthy of such distinction. One such collection that fits the bill is Nimbus' The Spirit of Christmas Past. Released in 1994 with little fanfare, it has remained one of Nimbus' top sellers, and for good reason: it is a well-considered compilation of Christmas fare from the 78 era that genuinely spreads good cheer while satisfying the curiosity about what Christmas music was like in a time when even standards like "White Christmas" didn't exist. Here one may find Enrico Caruso's bellicose but deeply felt account of Adolphe Adam's "Cantique de Noël" (aka, "O Holy Night"), Emmy Destinn's penetrating 1908 recording of Hummel's "Hallelujah," and the one-time radio perennial, Ernestine Schumann-Heink's version of "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht," which was a best-seller in the early record industry. In the so-called "Ambisonic" process, Nimbus transfers its recordings utilizing a gigantic wooden playback horn in a miniature concert hall in Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, and this practice has come under considerable fire from certain critics in the audio restoration business as sheer quackery. In this case, it does seem that in the narrated pieces recorded in the 1940s -- Charles Laughton's "The Oldest Christmas Story" and Basil Rathbone's recitation of Clement Clark Moore's poem "The Night Before Christmas" -- the Ambisonic rendering of the electrical voice recordings does tend to rob the voices of their presence and make them less easy to understand. However, the upside of the Ambisonic process is that the sizzling scratch of the source 78s almost disappears and singing voices come through with penetrating clarity. So as a Christmas gift for someone with a hankering for the nostalgic, but not a strong enthusiasm for surface noise, Nimbus' The Spirit of Christmas Past is a good bet. Just bear in mind that these Christmases are from way past -- in many cases nearly a century -- and that Bing Crosby and Peggy Lee will not be found here. Those favorites came from the LP era that postdates the content of this collection entirely.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 04:05
2 03:29
3 04:18
4 04:44
5 03:10
6 03:13
7 04:07
8 03:05
9 04:02
L' Enfance du Christ, oratorio for soprano, 2 tenors, baritone, 3 basses, chorus & orchetsra ("trilogie sacrée") H. 130 (Op. 25)
10 06:55
11 03:33
12 03:17
13 03:22
14 05:17
15 02:34
16 02:51
17 02:35
18 02:42
19 03:14
20 03:56
blue highlight denotes track pick