Album: Sting, If on a Winter's Night... (Deutsche Grammophon)

Named after Italo Calvino's meta-fiction If On a Winter's Night a Traveller, this is Sting's second album for the German classical label, following his 2003 collection of lute music Songs from the Labyrinth.

As a Christmas album, it is liable to secure a broader audience than its predecessor, though perhaps not as broad as its creators might have hoped. The material avoids standard seasonal repertoire in favour of more obscure carols and poems, also reflecting the pagan, pre-Christian spiritual values: virtually the only familiar melody is the brief trumpet counterpoint of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" that embellishes the later stages of the traditional beggar's song "Soul Cake". But while the folk-music settings of violins, mandolins, lap dulcimer, melodeon, harp and Northumbrian pipes are as warm and spicy as mulled wine, Sting's own baritone vocals are too similarly warm in timbre, and his delivery too ponderous, rendering many of the songs somewhat indistinct and blurry. The blending of subtle orchestrations by Musica Aeterna and choral arrangements by period specialists Stile Antico with the folk elements is beautifully effected on tracks such as "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming" and "Balulalow", but, contrarily, the incursion of fusion-jazz soprano sax in "The Burning Babe" is horrid.

Download this Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming; Soul Cake; Christmas At Sea; The Hounds Of Winter