The weekend was crazy, so instead of a Festive Friday, here’s a Merry Monday. I rediscovered Fantasia through the vehicle of her thrilling, uneven, yet enjoyable new Christmas album, Christmas at Midnight. This album begins on a nostalgic high note, with a cover of Donny Hathaway’s This Christmas, moves through a range of moods and vocal colors, sends Santa on a beeline to the ghetto (her words, not mine), pays jazzy homage to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, and ends with a soulful, chorus-backed rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. I firmly believe the latter song needs no more covers ever for the rest of time, but Fantasia derives so much energy from a backing choir, that her spirited version won me over. I love the way this woman sings; she is honest and fearless, with one of the most unique instruments around. She also possesses enough technique to last for the last fifteen years, and the wisdom to throw it out the window when she needs to get to the raw heart of a song. Give this talented artist’s holiday work a listen.
Today is a double bill, so next up is Veni Domine, a wonderful album of pristine polyphony from Palestrina, Josquin, Mouton, and Victoria. The Sistine Chapel Choir (Coro della Cappella Musicale Pontificia) has been in existence in some form since early in the fourth century, but was formalized as an institution of the Catholic Church by Pope Saint Gregory at the turn of the sixth century. With adult basses and tenors, and boys on soprano and alto, this is the original old boys’ club. Although the choir’s musicianship and singing are characteristically gorgeous, it is especially satisfying to hear the equally stellar singing of Cecilia Bartoli on Beate viscera by Perotin. She is the first female singer to collaborate with the Sistine Chapel Choir in its long history, and the joining of voices echoes through the chapel with musical and historical power. Hear Bartoli speak about her experience in this video:
Let me know how you like these two very different holiday albums. Enjoy!