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RYLAND ANGEL, COUNTERTENOR; "The New Voice of Christmas" (KOCH) ****

"THE ULTIMATE CLASSICAL CHRISTMAS" (Sony Classical) **** 1/2

THE SALT LAKE CHILDREN'S CHOIR, RALPH B. WOODWARD, DIRECTOR; "Noel" (Cherbourne) ****

With so many Christmas albums on the market and more being released each year, they have to be special to make them stand out. And Ryland Angel's "The New Voice of Christmas" offers listeners that something special.

The album contains some wonderful Christmas music. Some of the songs are among Angel's favorites, while others are pieces that aren't found on other CDs. But what they all have in common is Angel's unique twist.

For this album, Angel has created his own arrangements, with distinctive and, at times, haunting harmonizations. He recorded each part, and the resulting sound is akin to the King's Singers.

Angel has a beautiful countertenor, and in these arrangements, most of which are performed a cappella, he exploits the timbre and registers of his voice wonderfully. The performances are very polished, sophisticated and stylish.

This CD is a delight. Among the pieces that deserve special mention for their distinctive beauty are "Gabriel's Message," "Gaudette," "O Come, Emmanuel," "Be Thou My Vision" and "Silent Night."

"The Ultimate Christmas Album" is a compilation CD that contains some of the best known holiday favorites performed by various artists and ensembles. The content is what one would expect on a Christmas album, but it's nice hearing some of the biggest names in classical music do these takes on holiday favorites.

Aside from traditional versions of pieces such as "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" by Yo-Yo Ma, Frederica von Stade, Kathleen Battle and Placido Domingo, there are also a couple of delightful surprises: Joshua Bell and Bobby McFerrin doing Gounod's "Ave Maria," and the Wynton Marsalis Septet doing jazzed-up renditions of "Joy to the World" and "Winter Wonderland." Also worth mentioning is "Silent Night" by Marilyn Horne and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir under Jerold Ottley.

Ralph B. Woodward and his Salt Lake Children's Choir have finally released another CD. "Noel" is their third album and their second Christmas CD. And it's long overdue.

The children sound like angels on this recording. It's amazing what Woodward does with these kids to get them to sound so good. There is a professional quality to their performances that is stunning. And Woodward is an amazing arranger. He knows how to bring out the best in his choir. Most of the pieces on the album are his own arrangements, and they are absolutely delightful.

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For the first time, Woodward has decided to use live performances for this album, and the sequence of works and overall atmosphere reflect the character of an actual concert. All of the pieces were recorded in Salt Lake City's Cathedral of the Madeleine from 1998 to 2006, so they represent quite a large number of children.

All of the 31 tracks are wonderful. From Palestrina to traditional European carols to contemporary songs, this album represents the best spirit of Christmas. Once you have listened to it, you will find yourself hooked. You'll hit the repeat button on your CD player repeatedly.

"Noel" is a real winner among Christmas albums.


E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com