Album: Angelika Kirschlager, Sings Christmas Carols (Sony Classical)

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The Independent Culture

The classical world is even more attuned than the pop industry to the commercial potential of Christmas.

This album, for instance, finds the noted Austrian mezzo-soprano tackling two sets of songs: a slim anthology of popular carols, set to arrangements by John Lenehan; followed by some lesser-known seasonal songs from her native country including Christmas Carols Op 8 by Peter Cornelius. Neither approach really works: of the Cornelius songs, only "Drei Könige" has anything like as appealing a melody as the classic carols. And while Lenehan's arrangements reveal his command of the emotional weight of the reeds, woodwind and string textures, Kirchschlager's renditions are stiff and unyielding, in dire need of a healthy dose of good cheer. Her underplaying of the long "Gloria" in "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" may indicate her vocal control, but the effect is like being denied a guilty pleasure. The best piece, by some way, is "Silent Night" accompanied by two guitars, as specified by composer Franz Gruber: for once, the demotic setting spikes the starchy delivery.

Pick of the album:'Silent Night', 'In The Bleak Midwinter'