In which I provide my favourite carols and my favourite renditions of them.
In no particular order, except that 1) must be at the start and 9) at the end.
Once in Royal David’s City. Always opens the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Has the same problem as 9) in that the only nice recordings seem to have congregations in, but I suppose that’s all part of it.
The Three Kings. My favourite. This performance (King’s College) has a soloist who is a bit strident, I think, but all the other ones I’ve listened to are even stridenter.
O Holy Night. My second-favourite. It took until 2017 before I found a recording I liked: it’s by the Elora Festival Singers. (Pavarotti is a bit forceful. Most of the recordings appear to be soloists only, singing in very American voices. I want a SATB choir with soloist(s) and, if there must be accompaniment, organ. The soloist(s) must be reverent rather than joyful, and the choir must be singing the standard chordal patterns rather than funky modern ones. There’s a version done by Libera which almost passes muster, but it’s not SATB and it is accompanied by lighthearted orchestra. It’s a solemn piece.)
This Little Babe. I don’t usually like Britten, but this one is too rousing. I had trouble finding a good version of this, but these people nailed it.
In Dulci Jubilo. King’s College does it perfectly.
In the Bleak Midwinter (Darke’s setting). I’m sensing a theme with the King’s choir.
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. This performance is beautifully smooth.
This Is the Truth Sent From Above. Vaughan Williams had to make it into the list.
Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. Have to end a carol service with that. Wow, there are some bad arrangements of this out there (Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I’m looking at you, and Pentatonix, which would be so nice if they didn’t sing with such weirdly non-British vowel sounds). I still haven’t found one in which there isn’t a congregation.