New Year's with J.S. Bach and Susan Graham. For the classical crowd, there's no justification for getting hammered with all the other party animals on New Year's Eve. Choral Arts Philadelphia performs Bach's Christmas Oratorio - the composer never seemed so startlingly happy - at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. The genteel schedule is 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., with on-site food for the dinner break (Information: 267-240-2586 or www.choralarts.com). Meanwhile, across town, the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin is leading a 7:30 p.m. program of waltzes and arias with none other than mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, who is as much fun as she is vocally lustrous. One can just imagine how she'll handle Offenbach's paean to sexy soldiers in "Ah, que j'aime les militaires." (Information: 215-893-1999 or www.philorch.org.)
- David Patrick Stearns
Christmas rest cure. After all the stress, traffic, and bombast of the holiday season, New York Polyphony's Sing Thee Nowell disc on the Bis label promises comfort and respite. The music is sung by four unaccompanied male voices (with two female guests here and there) in a repertoire that exudes consolation and quiet joy, including the song "There Is No Rose," the Advent hymn "Veni Emmanuel," five carols by Richard Rodney Bennett, and the full-blown polyphony of Tomás Luis de Victoria's
O Magnum Mysterium. The singing is meticulously enunciated and effortlessly blended, with phrasing that's suave and smooth but never bland.
Tributes to Saint Carlos. Carlos Kleiber was already a legendary conductor when he died in 2004 at age 74. However, the ultra-temperamental, often reclusive musician left behind such sporadic recordings and videos that any new-ish discoveries command great interest. Carlos Kleiber - In Rehearsal & Performance (EuroArts) has Kleiber, circa 1970, walking the Südfunk Sinfonieorchester through overtures from Weber's Der Freischutz and Strauss' Die Fledermaus. You'd rather have a Brahms or Beethoven symphony, but Kleiber's detailed, vivid imagery transforms not only how you hear this music, but also how you listen to everything. The footage has been circulating for years, but it arrives here with English subtitles (big difference). Also, Kleiber's rare outing with Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde - recorded live in 1967 with Christa Ludwig and Waldemar Kmentt - is reissued on the Vienna Symphony's own label and has some rough edges, but it is worth hearing, if only for the profound flute solo during "Der Abschied."