December 2000

Mormon Tabernacle Choir - A Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas
conducted by Craig Jessop
Telarc CD 80552
Released: 2000

by Roger Kanno

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]The Mormon Tabernacle Choir may not sell as many CDs as Britney Spears or Eminem, but it's impossible to deny that they are one of the foremost choral institutions in North America, if not the world. One good method for even a premier choir to sell a lot of CDs is to record a Christmas album. Combining the talents of the Orchestra at Temple Square with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, under the direction of Craig Jessop, A Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas is a collection of classic Christmas carols.

There is nothing daring or adventurous about these arrangements by Jessop and his associate directors, Mack Wilberg and Barlow Bradford, but that is not what the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is about. Their style may be conservative, but they do what they do exceedingly well. The album opens with a rousing version of "Joy To the World," with pomp and fanfare aided by a powerful pipe organ. More melodic and pensive compositions such as "Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance?," "The First Noel," and "How Far Is It To Bethlehem?" benefit from the dulcet strings of the Orchestra at Temple Square. There is also some wonderful interplay between the male and female choruses in "Carol Of The Bells," lyrically intertwining the massed vocals of each section.

This recording is one of Telarc’s first to utilize DSD recording technology. DSD, or Direct Stream Digital, is the new SACD format that uses a one-bit word length and increases the sampling frequency to the extremely high rate of 2.8224 MHz. Even so, the sound quality of this CD is a little disappointing. Whether this is a result of the engineering of the original recording, the subsequent down conversion to the lower resolution of compact disc, or a combination of both is not readily evident. But the recording is flat, lacking in air and sounds slightly constrained. The choir images well across the soundstage, but it does not float in mid-air between the speakers with a palpable presence as it would in a truly exceptional recording. The fidelity of the vocals and the orchestral instruments is good, but there is little sense of the recording space.

This Christmas album by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will please their fans and fans of this genre of music, but it will probably not win over many new followers. However, it is a stirring album with decent sonics that will no doubt be appreciated during the holiday season by those who enjoy traditional choral works.