O Holy Night, all choral, NO soloist?
December 27, 2011 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Are there any versions of "O Holy Night" in the choral style of Palestrina/Victoria, without soloist?

I hope I've checked MeFi thoroughly before asking this question, because this is a very popular song. I am looking for a rendition of this holiday tune, done in a very haunting, yet not overly dramatic style. I almost see this song bordering on funereal, yet I haven't been able to find a version that really speaks to me.

Specifically I'm looking for an a cappella choral version of this song, NO soloist, e.g. groups like Chanticleer, Cambridge Singers or the King's Singers would do. I've listened to several versions that was posted on MeFi and none of them fit the critera. I used Palestrina and Victoria as examples of polyphonic composers the song could be styled after. I often find that the popular versions of the song are very "diva-fied" and frankly detracts the meaning of this rather pensive tune.
posted by vnvlain to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I often find that the popular versions of the song are very "diva-fied" and frankly detracts the meaning of this rather pensive tune.

It was composed to be a solo for an operatic tenor or soprano, though; Adolphe Adam wrote it specifically for a then-popular-in-Paris tenor (someone else, probably Lutoslawski, will remember who that was), and it became internationally famous when recorded by Caruso.

That said, there's nothing wrong with wanting to find an arrangement that takes a different tack entirely. I know there's a four-part choral arrangement with no solos by Leavitt, so you might include his name in your search terms. I thought that the group Chanticleer's recording might be a good bet for you, but they have one of the tenors singing a solo for the second and third verses. I haven't heard this Capella Gloriana recording, but it might be the one for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:16 PM on December 27, 2011

I'm fond of this rendition of O Holy Night by the Whiffenpoofs, but I post this with the caveat that I am not a music scholar and I may be misunderstanding what you are looking for.
posted by missmerrymack at 3:33 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much Sidhedevil and missmerrymack. I've had some luck searching Leavitt's arrangement of the "O Holy Night". I came across this version from your suggestion which is pretty close to my criteria (except for the accompaniment).

missmerrymack, the Whiffenpoofs was an excellent find. Thanks so much for linking it. If they had a few more boys to even out the dynamics, it would've been perfect for me. More along the lines of King's College Choir, but without the organ accompaniment. The Whiffenpoofs definitely is the closest to what I imagined this song should be represented.

Sidhedevil was right in that the composer originally meant for the song to be performed by a tenor. However, as a former music major and a collector of requiems from different eras, there is a trend from the more humble pure tone chants to the all out pathos and drama of the Verdi's Requiem. I just feel that with today's emphasis on going solo (e.g. Celine Dion's rendition or really any other diva-fied version of the song), the original meaning of being humble which is supposed to be the Christian virtue is completely lost to the pathos. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Thanks again...I think this is as good as it's going to get.
posted by vnvlain at 4:56 PM on December 27, 2011

There's also a version by the Langley First Capital Barbershop Chorus.
posted by oceano at 12:03 AM on December 28, 2011

It was/is originally a French carol. Try searching on Minuit Chretiens for a whole new set of arrangements.
posted by genesta at 12:57 AM on December 28, 2011

You may be looking for the American Boychoir's recording on their album Carol. Some of the leads can sound like solos (not in the diva sense), but I'm pretty sure everything is at least doubled and they're just good at blending. I think this is the album version.

Ditto for the Cambridge Singers (dir. John Rutter) on their 2003 The Cambridge Singers Christmas Album. Here's that.

If you can track down The Glory of Christmas by the Eric Rogers Chorale, that's a mixed group that sounds practically on top of you and isn't just using the standard arrangement. YMMV on the brief instrumental breaks.

If you liked the Whiffenpoofs, you might like the Lettermen's recording from their For Christmas This Year (1966). They're also a small group, but unsurprisingly, more laid-back than the Whiffenpoofs and imo with better-matched parts.

The Manhattan Transfer's recording is also mixed and nontraditional.

Let me know if I'm off-base, and in what direction, because oh boy, do I have a lot of Christmas music. The song also sometimes goes by "Cantique de Noel," which might help searches.
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:39 PM on December 28, 2011

Thanks a bunch booksandlibretti...your find is pretty close in terms of the vocals that I'm looking for, but unfortunately not a capella. The orchestral arrangement, however, is laid back enough that if I'm not listening carefully, I can barely hear them. The vocal dynamics of the Cambridge Singers are just...amazing.

oceano, the Barbershop Chorus is also pretty good, but the recording quality isn't good enough to make a decent comparison. The Whiffenpoofs recording I think, is a better representation because of the audio quality.

I will also search "Cantique de Noel" to see if I have better luck. MeFi is awesome, thank you so much. :)
posted by vnvlain at 9:13 AM on January 8, 2012

« Older List of BBC Christmas Specials?   |   How can I use my smart phone as a camera and not... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.