Clan Ionarts has spent lots of hours reviewing CDs of Christmas music that get sent to us. The normal rules of reviewing do not necessarily apply, and the following list includes discs particularly enjoyed by other members of the family last month (with 1 to 4 stars indicated). Much of this music is for playing behind the sound of your family and friends chatting over a mug of loaded eggnog, but you can follow your own tastes in choosing the kind of music you like, just in time for the post-Christmas sales.
Gospel Christmas Project, CBC TRCD 3823
To start with, parts of this Gospel Christmas Project album are as cheesy as one would expect from the title -- please spare me the revved-up adaptation of the Hallelujah Chorus -- but it got the seal of approval from Mrs. Ionarts for non-classical Christmas Eve listening, tribute to Mahalia Jackson and all.
Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride, BBC Concert Orchestra, L. Slatkin, Naxos 8. 559621
Arguably the king of pops concert cheese, Leroy Anderson also celebrated a centenary this year, on June 29. His compositions and arrangements, Classical Lite intended largely for Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, are a natural fit for holiday background listening. Sleigh Ride, of course, can still manage to sound fairly winning even when played by high school band (like my own, lo those many years ago, mistimed whip cracks and all). Here the BBC Concert Orchestra plays with a lot of panache and does not seem to take itself all that seriously, and Leonard Slatkin drives many of the tempi forward, keeping the general spirit of the enterprise light and fun.
Scandinavian Christmas, Phoenix 155
This disc is a fairly good approximation of the Scandinavian portions of the Norwegian Christmas concert I reviewed for the Washington Post earlier this month: Sibelius, Leevi Madetoja, and several traditional tunes, even Nordqvist's Jul, Jul, Strålande Jul, which was one of the pieces that appealed the most at the National Gallery of Art. Some of the pieces in the middle part of the album are disappointingly plain, but the marvelous consonantal sounds and somber melodies can add just that right Ingmar Bergman bleakness to your holiday party.