You are here

My favourite music for Christmas

Features - Classical Music | Light Classics | Jazz

My favourite music for Christmas

by Melissa Lesnie on December 14, 2011 (December 14, 2011) filed under Classical Music | Light Classics | Jazz | Comment Now
Cheryl Barker, Brett Weymark and Classic FM presenters share their most cherished Yuletide tunes.


Cheryl Barker, soprano

"On Christmas morning in the Barker household, as we are sipping our traditional champagne cocktails, we always put on Cool Yule by Bette Midler, the John Rutter Christmas Album, Anne Sophie von Otter's Home for Christmas... And no Christmas is complete without Christmas with Bing. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year!"


Bette Midler - Cool Yule


Brett Weymark

Musical Director, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
Messiah Fanboy

"I was going to be interesting and say the Charpentier's Messe de minuit pour Noel, which I discovered many years ago when I was listening to the works of Rameau, Lully and Couperin. But if I was being really honest, every Christmas morning for the last ten years at least I have played John Eliot Gardiner's recording of Bach's Christmas Oratorio. The singing is fresh, the playing energetic and the trumpets and timpani just add to the general sense of celebration and joy.

"The other song I love to hear is, especially while putting up a tree or cooking Christmas dinner, is Kay Starr's The Man with the Bag, which I first heard on the stage of the STC production of Tartuffe directed by Barry Kosky many years ago, with David Wenhan outrageously lip synching while stuffing a turkey. It's the ultimate in Christmas lounge music!"

John Eliot Gardiner - Christmas Oratorio


Damien Beaumont
ABC presenter, Just Classics

"I adore the traditional (old, old, old) Christmas hymns and carols. The 12th-century O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is a particular favourite due to the many years of my declamation of it in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.

"But back in 1999 I was playing Yvonne Kenny’s A Christmas Gift album and heard for the first time Night of Silence. It’s a modern take on an old favourite with Daniel Kantor taking Franz Gruber’s Silent Night, adding a new song and new words to be performed simultaneously and a special orchestration of all of that by Australian Julie Simonds. Performed by Yvonne Kenny and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra; The Contemporary Singers and conductor David Stanhope, it’s pure magic for a magical time of the year. It has become a must-play piece in my house each Christmas every year since."


Fiona Campbell, mezzo-soprano

"I always feel incredibly nostalgic at Christmas. My mum used to make the most super human effort to make Christmas special for us, as children. We would hang all the decorations, cook fruit mince pies and decorate the tree together on Christmas Eve while listening to Bing Crosby’s album White Christmas... It’s totally charming and has stood the test of time.

"My favourite individual Christmas song is Judy Garland singing Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Late on Christmas Eve with the fairy lights twinkling and stockings hung, her beautiful rendition of this song always brings a tear to my eye."

Judy Garland – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 


Margaret Throsby
Classic FM, Mornings

"My all-time fave Christmas music is the carol In the Bleak Midwinter: it has to be sung by the Choir of Kings College Cambridge. It’s a bit of a whacky choice really, given that Christmas to me means a hot sultry day, agapanthus in vases, 40 degrees in the kitchen cooking the turkey – as far distant from deep midwinter as can be imagined. But that’s the music that’s always in the CD player on the day."



Paul Dyer
Artistic Director
The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

"In our annual Noël! Noël! concerts we have performed such an amazing range Christmas music over the last 13 years. Each series something different resonates with me and the piece that I’m in love with this year is The Little Drummer Boy. Our arranger Tristan Coelho and I have given it a fun make-over which audiences have loved. With baritone saxophone and percussion giving a calypso pulse, three gorgeous sopranos take the lead vocals Andrews Sisters-style and the Brandenburg Choir add heart and soul. Everyone is left smiling at the end – in the audience and the musicians on the stage. Christmas is a time to feel good and this Little Drummer Boy sure brings on that feeling!"


Sally Whitwell, pianist

"For me, Christmas each year means Voices of Angels, a concert presented by Sydney Children's Choir and Gondwana Voices, conducted by Artistic Director Lyn Williams and accompanied sometimes by me, sometimes by a chamber orchestra. It takes a whole school term's worth of weekly rehearsals with the kids to get everything ship-shape and it's worth every minute!

"My favourite Christmas piece from the program is Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols for treble choir and harp. It can seem very simple on the surface but it's brimful of tiny make-or-break details which, when they're taken care of, are just so magical and full of colour. Those 'ye olde English' texts are so delicious to articulate and provide much food for thought as to their meaning. I will never tire of this piece!"



Harry Christophers
Music director, The Sixteen 

"My absolute favourite carol is Gustav Holst's In the Bleak Midwinter. Holst, along with Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw, went around England digging up all the great traditional carols. They were the initial publishers of the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928 – The Sixteen do an annual choral pilgrimage through the churches of England and it's such a fantastic compendium of beautiful tunes that have been sung up and down the country for years and years. 

"Holst wrote this carol in a beautiful village in England – it was idyllic, it was snowing. The text by Christina Rossetti is gorgeous words, very simply set. It's one of those lovely carols, when we perform it, that makes people in the audience people just go 'Ah...'"


Melissa Lesnie
Editor's Choice

First of all, Bach's Magnificat is non-negotiable. Then, I've always loved the spiky syncopation and the strange mix of exuberance and severity in the medieval carol Gaudete

A more recent discovery has been Arthur Honegger's lush, slightly quirky Cantate de Noël. Completed in 1953, the Les Six composer's final work is full of richly expressive, sometimes pungent choral settings of psalms and traditional French and German carols; the solo baritone part is divine. This remarkable piece revives the senses, so often dulled this time of year by the usual suspects of seasonal Muzak.

Lastly, I have to admit to one guilty pleasure that has dominated my CD player for the past five years. American indie rock/folk darling Sufjan Stevens wears his Christianity on his sleeve in all his music, but no more so than in his annual Christmas albums, released on his own label Asthmatic Kitty Records. The 5-EP boxed set of carols and original songs, often recorded in his apartment with an ad hoc assortment of friends who can neither sing or play well, is an absolute charmer. Plus, it comes with festive stickers! Good Christmas cheer for all ages, his sheer joie de vivre and enthusiasm is irritatingly infectious.


Can't decide?

Here's a medley of all the carols you'll ever need... Compressed into two minutes. Courtesy of Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc blog.