With Christmas just a few days away, perhaps you're seeking the perfect last-minute stocking stuffer. Or perhaps you're a few days late in your CityBeat reading and the holiday is over, but you have some holiday cash or a gift certificate to spend. How about a few musical options? At the top of my list is CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS WITH THE VOCAL ARTS ENSEMBLE OF CINCINNATI. This blend of new and traditional chorus music is performed by the 24-voice professional chamber choir, directed by Earl Rivers. The choir's been around for 25 years (Rivers has been waving the baton for 17), and they're certainly the best in town at this kind of thing. If you attended their mid-December concerts at several churches around town, you know how good they are: This recording is your chance to have them at your beck and call every holiday, marvelously accompanied by harpist Elizabeth Motter and oboist Mark Ostoich. This is not your typical Christmas carol fare: It's serious material, some using contemporary arrangements, but it still conveys a joyous holiday feeling. At several local book and record stores, or from the choir's Web site: vaecincinnati.org ...
If you're looking for something more on the jaunty side of the holidays, check out LIGHTS! CAMERA! CAROLS! from the CINCINNATI MEN'S CHORUS. These guys don't have quite the snap of the Vocal Arts Ensemble (in fact, they reminded me of a good high school glee club, albeit with deeper voices), but their arrangements of tunes like "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" are delivered with genuine enthusiasm. The heavy-handed piano accompaniment took me right back to my high school gym, so I most appreciated several a cappella arrangements, especially "Silent Night" and a piece based on Hopi sources, "Winter Solstice Moon." The recording wraps up with a heartfelt Gospel rendition of "O Holy Night," a nice departure from that carol's typically operatic delivery. The CD is available at the chorus' Web site: www.cincinnatimenschorus.org.