Noel from Canada:
In light of how many Canadians lurk on Philadelphia's arts scene, why shouldn't the rest of us celebrate Christmas their way a little? The ATMA-label disc
La Veillée de Noël
by beloved Acadian soprano Suzie LeBlanc represents a number of French-Canadian musical regions, and ranges from cozy, lyrical Christmas songs to folk ballads to more hybrid styles distantly related to Louisiana zydeco. The Franco influence means there's genre-mixing that can sound odd to our south-of-their-border ears, like a jazzy bass line paired with a folksy harmonica. But LeBlanc is always her deeply charming self. And if she leaves you wanting more, her ATMA disc of Mozart songs with a certain pianist named Yannick Nézet-Séguin is one of the best things either has ever done.
- David Patrick Stearns
Homage à Pete. Peter Gunn, that '50s icon - what's an early-music label like Harmonia Mundi doing with newly recorded music from the 1958-61 TV show? The Harmonie Ensemble/New York under Steven Richman has been playing pop hybrids for a while, and in Music From Peter Gunn does so without the freeze-dried quality of some vintage pop. The idea behind the disc is that Henry Mancini was writing distillations of the West Coast Cool School that stand up on their own without the show as context. This sassy disc requires no nostalgia to be fun - it's a Gray Line tour of a significant corner of American music with musicians who play the stuff as though they invented it. - D.P.S.
H&G I. The surest escape route from holiday materialism madness is by way of music. And because no Philadelphia group sees fit to do the sensible thing and mount a terrific annual production of Hansel and Gretel (Opera Philadelphia, what can you be thinking?), we have no choice but to head to the Metropolitan Opera. Richard Jones' tasty food-centric production continues Tuesday for six more performances through Jan. 8 (including daytime shows for the kinder). Another plus: Andrew Davis conducts. www.metopera.org. - Peter Dobrin
H&G II. If New York isn't in the cards, there's a charming Radiotelevisione italiana production of Hansel and Gretel from 1957 that deserves your attention. The now-forgotten Nino Sanzogno conducts - a Hermann Scherchen disciple who brings out counter-melodies you may have missed - with, as Hansel, the great mezzo-soprano Fiorenza Cossotto. The entire production, in black-and-white and of a hand-made feel, can be found on YouTube by searching "Hansel and Gretel" and "RAI." -P.D.