(BGM Classics 74321 44022 2, $15). Montserrat Caballe and Montserrat Marti, Jose Collado conducting with the Brandenburg Philharmonic. Recorded in Berlin, September 1996.
" I am very happy that for the first time in my recording career, I
have been given the opportunity to record an album of Christmas songs. The
joy was even greater when my daughter Montserrat Marti was asked to join me
in this recording, reminding me of those good old days when my parents Ana
and Carlos used to ask me to sing Christmas songs with them. That is probably
the reason of nostalgia, happiness and hope I feel when Christmas time arrives,
nostalgia for the beloved ones who left us, happiness for the present and
hope for a better tomorrow full of love and peace between all mankind.
- Montserrat Caballe"
... And so reads the liner notes from the Caballe/Marti Christmas CD, now widely available in North America in time for the holiday season. Surprisingly no one before this had thought of asking Caballe to record a Christmas album. Fortunately for her admirers, it has now come to fruition, and the addition of daughter Montserrat Marti is a big bonus indeed!
Far from being your regular run-of-the-mill Christmas collection, this is a refreshing change from the familiar carols to which a lot of us are accustomed. True that it opens with "Stille Nacht", but what follows is a series of solos and duets from both Montserrats covering some traditional, but rarely recorded, carols from Germany, Spain (including the Catalan region) plus a couple of new Spanish carols.
A hauntingly simple traditional Bavarian carol, "Aba Haidschi Bumbaidschi", is beautifully and lovingly sung by Montsita with an unnamed children's chorus. . Among the many Christmas songs and carols in this CD, Caballe's solo of the German carol ,"Still, Still, Still" is a stand-out: the still-beautiful voice of the elder Montserrat caresses every word and makes it heartfelt. Caballe wishes everyone a merry Christmas in four languages and introduces two beautiful Andalusian Christmas songs, "Ole, Ole" and "Gloria", a hymn to the Christchild and His Mother.
(Jubileaum Collection DVD TE0268dvd, $25). Montserrat Caballe and Montserrat Marti with the Nuova Polifonic Choir and the Orchestra Lirica. Jose Collado conducting.
The digital video disc "Christmas at the Duomo", could be a nice complement to the Christmas CD above. Videotaped from the Duomo in Milan (no date specified, my guess will be sometime in December, 1999), the program includes some of the carols from the CD, as well as religious songs and hymns by Vivaldi, Schubert, Gounod and Handel.
It was definitely a gala affair at the Duomo, with both Montserrats decked out in their loveliest. I know I had made mention somewhere else in this website of how elegant and beautiful Montserrat Marti has become, and if anyone needs any convincing, this is the video that proves it. She is positively radiant, at times achingly beautiful and the video camera obviously adores her.
Montsita opens the German traditional " Susser die Glocken nie Kliegen" and then joined by Caballe. Backed by a full orchestra, both Montserrats sail through the program and provide us with one of the more majestic Christmas concerts captured on video in the last few years. The best selection for me has to be the traditional "Liese Rieselt der Schnee", which easily could be written with the Caballe/Marti voices in mind. Included in the program is Irving Berlin's "White Christmas".
Despite the awe-inspiring locale of the Milan Duomo, I found the sound quality rather flat, probably because of the microphones involved. Unlike the Easter video concert which had a lush sound, this one was not recorded the same way, and some of the sound atmosphere remains rather flat.
I am sure there had to be a reason for the presence of Al Bano Carrisi, but what it was precisely, escapes me. Perhaps it is just my North American ignorance, but I am not convinced that he added anything to the evening. Unfortunately no liner notes are available with this DVD, so many will probably end up like me, wondering who exactly Mr. Carrisi is. But here lies the advantage of the DVD technology ... I can just skip the tracks I don't wish to listen to, and all is well again. Last on my list of reservations is the list of the musical selections at the back cover of the packaging, which I find does not really correspond with the tracks. Better to follow the index within the discs.
Apart from these concerns, admirers of Caballe and Marti will treasure this video, as it is not often that we get a chance to hear both singers celebrating the Christmas season through their music. It is a pleasure to hear Caballe revisit the old "Ave Maria" from Verdi's Otello, an aria closely associated with her throughout her long career. The audience gives her an appreciative and loving (albeit premature) ovation at the end of the aria.
Either the excellent sounding CD or the visually stunning DVD (or both) will be welcome addition to any classical music lover's Christmas list, and more importantly, to all Caballe and Marti admirers.
Happy holidays, Merry Christmas and season's greetings to all! May you all find time to sit back and enjoy the music of the season, wherever you may be.