In the search for recordings of instrumental Christmas music with mandolin, one has to discern what is unique about the plethora of renditions of the most familiar, over-played traditional carols. Also, depending on one’s preference, what makes one rendition better than the other.
Two recordings of mandolin and guitar duos feature most of the same repertoire but have distinctive styles. One, “Italian Christmas” by the Natale Italian Mandolin Duo, released in 2014, is an album of 18 songs, only four the tracks Italian, the rest the usual Christmas fare (Deck the Halls, Good King Wenceslaus, et al.) Nevertheless, it is good, crisp and simply arranged, in the Neapolitan mandolin playing style. Another, “A Mandolin Christmas” by Karen Mal (mandolin) and Will Taylor (guitar), encompasses contemporary folk and acoustic with some very light jazz guitar. For solo mandolin, and no other instrumentation, “A Mandolin for Christmas” by Evan J. Marshall, all the traditional Christmas repertoire played in the Neapolitan mandolin style.
A country acoustic offering is “Evergreen; Mandolin Music for Christmas” by Butch Baldassari. The traditional Christmas repertoire, once again, but with acoustic guitar, dobro, and fiddle. Baldassari has previously performed and recorded with the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, who released their own Christmas album, “Gifts,” in 1996.
An Italian Renaissance offering is “Mandolins for Christmas” by Ugo Orlandi, Alessandro Bono, and Quintetto A Plettro, et al. The album features compositions of minor Italian composers from the 17th to 20th century, as well as non-seasonal music. The album also features “Planxty O’Carolan; Irish Suite for Flute, Percussion and Mandolin Orchestra.” The suite is in seven movements, and in spite of the title, not all of it is by O’Carolan (the movements include adaptations of Irish Washerwoman Jig and Down by the Sally Gardens). The final track is a cleverly arranged medley of the familiar holiday favorites, including “Silent Night” and “White Christmas.” (1)
These and other albums can be found on Spotify (if you type in Christmas mandolin in the search engine) and YouTube.
Merry Christmas, and happy listening.
(1) David Vernier, classicstoday.com