Okay, quick: what’s the most beautiful performance of a Christmas carol ever put on record? You have one of two choices, and they’re both by the Harry Simeone Chorale. (No, sorry, your other suggestion will just have to wait for another blog post — but naturally, I more than welcome your own opinions on this subject in the comments section!)
Here are the choices:
- “The Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeone Chorale: This choice would make a lot of sense, as not only is it among the most beautiful Christmastime songs and this version the most beautifully recorded (in my opinion, of course, but it seems hard to argue), but Harry Simeone himself was credited with cowriting the song (actually, he was the arranger — it started out as a different song). Yes, this song, which seems so timeless and forever old, was actually written in the 1950s — weird, huh?
- “Carol of the Bells” also by the Harry Simeone Chorale: Written in 1904 by a Ukrainian composer named Mykola Leontovych, its original title is “Shchedryk,” and many people may also know this as “Ring, Christmas Bells.”
So as you’ve probably figure out based on this post’s title, the Simeone version of “Carol of the Bells” is my choice. I think you could choose any one of a multitude of recordings as contenders for best version, but I find the Simeone version to be the most intimate and has just the right amount of gravity, without being melodramatic. It’s less grandiose than many of the versions I’ve heard, which I like; I imagine a small group of talented singers wandering on a snowy evening and stopping in front of a small fire (okay, in my mind this is probably Victorian England, which I guess is anachronistic, given the song’s composition date) to sing this song, building from a quiet beginning to a strong, stunning finish.
I can’t go a Christmas without listening to this recording many times — it brings me back to my childhood and everything that Christmas means to me.