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Herald Angels Sing

16 NOV 09 JASON SERINUS

If anyone knew how to present America's favorite Christmas hymns and carols with an irresistible blend of homey pronunciation and elevated vocalism, it was Robert Shaw. On his 1994 Telarc CD, Songs Of Angels: Christmas Hymns And Carols, the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers sing with beautiful tone and crystal clear enunciation.

You may have heard "Good King Wenceslas," "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" and "What Child Is This?" countless times, but Shaw's impeccable control and masterly use of tempo and dynamic shifts make you want to listen again and again. The CD's 29 delectable arrangements by Shaw and Alice Parker date from the 1950s, that curious time in American history where, amidst the social and artistic horror of Joseph McCarthy's maniacal witch hunts, everything from music to home appliances was coated in a veneer of familial contentment.

Thankfully, Parker and Shaw rose far above the level of mediocrity. Nor did politics didn't stop them from staging songs from outside U.S. borders, "Fum, Fum, Fum" and "Hacia Belen Va Un Borrico." The latter features a gorgeous-voiced bass soloist who sounds as though he could have easily sustained a professional career.

There are infinite collections of Christmas hymns and carols on the market, but few are this satisfying, affordably priced, and all-embracing in their mixture of joy and reverence.