“For the very first time on one album,” exclaims this CD’s cover, which cynical fans of more muscular (Rustavi Choir) or mournful (Gregorian anything) holiday tastes may find hilarious. But there’s plenty of variety and drama among children’s choirs, if one stays away from the Norwegians (I don’t want to talk about it). Regensburger Domspatzen turns in traditional arrangements of uninteresting works; even the shimmering harmonies that gussy up “Stille Nacht” can’t outrun the oompah stiffness of the tune and the church-lady organ that accompanies it. The Bavarian Tolzer Knabenchor sings to the harp for its “angelic” moments, but mostly sports the annoying heartiness of an Oktoberfest house band as it alternates between weird (the tuneless “O heiliges Kind wir grussen dich”) and boring (“O Tannenbaum”) choices. Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Francois de Versailles are crowd-pleasers, with big, melting harmonies and a sugary French version of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” as well as an alternately prinking and plodding desecration of the lovely “Il est ne le Divin Enfant.” But the justly renowned Vienna Boys’ Choir knocks the others off the mat; they have beautiful, serious voices, sensitive musicality, a welcome lack of sweetness, and, here, an unusual set list. This album closes with a fascinating sung playlet, “Angel, San Jose y Nuestra Senora,” by Escolania de la Abadia de Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caidos. Trust the Spanish to acknowledge Christianity’s blood-soaked roots; this stunning set piece has it all: vigorous strings, a powerful chorus, impressive soloists, and a dark and dramatic narrative, for 10-and-a-half intense minutes. It’s scarier than “Jingle-O the Brownie-O,” and that’s saying something.
—Arion “Vixen” Berger