Christmas Break – A Relaxing Classical Mix may be one of the most confluent of the batch of holiday albums unloaded onto a by-now-expectant market this year. Conceived, perhaps, as the soundtrack to a holiday dinner party, not for family but for friends you actually enjoy spending time with, the overriding objective seems, at times, merely to avoid offense. So we’re given four solo treatments of known or obscure carols by harpist Yolanda Kondonassis that, while pretty, occasionally dip into childish simplicity or, over descending full-bodied scales and arpeggios, frank sentimentality. High School Orchestra staples like Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Greensleeves” and the Appalachian carol “I Wander as I Wonder” provide nostalgic touchstones, none more so than Robert Shaw’s gorgeous a cappella choral rendition of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (even if it’s not quite as exquisitely tuned as a Glee Club helmed by Jameson Marvin). They could have included the second verse. For any serious classical music fan, hearing such staples as “Messiah” and Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” cut to two- or three-minute excerpts can be a bit cringeworthy. It just makes you wish you could hear the whole piece. But, suitably for its intended audience, Telarc has collected an entertaining variety of holiday-themed music in competent-or-better performance. The collection opens and closes with a pair of piano arrangements performed by Michael Chertock. “Silent Night / Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, though it begins as mildly as the rest of the music on the album, rises to a rousing, full-blooded piano fantasia—the only point of forthright emotion on a disc otherwise content to play in the background.
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