By Blair Jackson
Sorry to be getting to this less than a week before Christmas, but perhaps it will make next year’s holiday season brighter. Since I’ve been editor of Classical Guitar magazine these past two years, I’ve been asked by several folks whether I can recommend a CD or two that feature Christmas/holiday tunes played on classical guitar. I am a huge fan of (good) Christmas music and have a large collection spanning everything from chamber groups to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Christmas with the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr.) to collections of rockabilly, cajun, French, jug band, Tony Bennett, Chris Isaak, John Fahey … you name it. Yet until this year I did not have a classical guitar collection in my library. Oh, the shame, the humiliation!
But now I have discovered a few discs that I would like to give a shout-out to, and of course I’m counting on all of you to alert us to discs you own that you particularly enjoy.
At the top of my short list is a wonderful 2012 disc called In Dulci Jubilo: A Classical Guitar Christmas, by German guitarist Eva Beneke, helped out by current Classical Guitar magazine cover subject Scott Tennant on several pieces, as well as violinist Moni Simeonov, cellist Lars Hoefs, and oboe and English horn player Phil Popham on a few. The program is dominated by pieces from the German and English classical and religious traditions, with Bach, Schubert (Ave Maria), Gruber (Silent Night, of course), Handel (a fantastic Hallelujah Chorus!), and more all presented in glistening, pristine arrangements. O Tannenbaum is a popular choice nicely played, and I also really like the gorgeous version of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, which I have known for many years by it’s English title, Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. The disc was put out by Guitar Salon International (Santa Monica, California), so not surprisingly there is a tie-in to a historic guitar: Beneke plays a 1952 Hermann Hauser I. It’s an exquisite disc from beginning to end; it’s instantly become a new favorite in my Christmas collection!
Here’s a video of Eva Beneke playing the aforementioned Es ist ein Ros entsprungen on the ’52 Hauser at GSI:
Speaking of Scott Tennant, another CD I’m recommending is a 1993 Delos Records release called L.A. Guitar Quartet: Dances from Renaissance to Nutcracker, which features an earlier incarnation of the LAGQ that included Andrew York along with (current members) Tennant, John Dearman, and Bill Kanengiser. York wrote the lively and inventive arrangements for several parts of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Christmas-themed Nutcracker Suite. That covers nearly 21 minutes; the rest of the disc dips back to the Renaissance for a few other dance numbers, and also serves up the more recent Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock (1894-1930).
Here’s the LAGQ performing their Overture for The Nutcracker, from their 2007 DVD LAGQ Live!:
Lastly (for now) is A Christmas Feeling by classical guitarist Virginia Luque and rock/country/blues/folk/jazz guitarist Jack Pearson, which offers newly arranged duets on a number of popular Christmas favorites, such as Carol of the Bells, Silent Night, Little Drummer Boy, Joy to the World, and The Christmas Song, with Luque on her nylon string instrument and Pearson playing everything from lightly amplified electric to steel-string acoustic, fingerpicked, strummed, and with slide. Luque plays solo on Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man Desiring, while Pearson has an impressive solo spin on a blues-gospel take of Go Tell it on the Mountain. Feliz Navidad even finds the duo laying down serviceable vocals. Some interesting arrangements throughout and also a pair of solid originals, particularly the title track. The 2015 release is on Luque’s Iberia Productions label.
Check out this audio-only YouTube version of their fresh take on “Joy to the World”: