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Culture Watch: What to listen to, read and watch

December 21, 2010 |  4:00 pm

CDs: The year’s best Christmas music

“Puer Natus Est: Tudor Music for Advent & Christmas” (Harmonia Mundi). Stile Antico — an ensemble of young British singers, pure of voice, their texture thick and sweet as pudding — here make Thomas Tallis’ Christmas Mass and other examples of seasonal 16th century English choral glisten.

“Berlin Philharmonic: The Nutcracker” (EMI Classics). Simon Rattle has never been much drawn to Tchaikovsky, and maybe that’s what makes his “Nutcracker” so fresh and seductive. And when  
Tchaikovsky asks for toys, Sir Simon sends his silken-sounding, sophisticated Berliners to the Rattleberlin playground, where out pops their inner juvenile delinquent.

“The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols and Ballads for Christmas” (Harmonia Mundi). Every year some big-name classical singer comes along with embarrassing Christmas fare. Bryn Terfel and Juan Diego Flórez, you know who you are. Next to them, the Anonymous 4, the stellar four-woman early music vocal group in pursuit of a merry olde 14th and 15th century Christmas, are like an aged Belgian ale poured beside a Bud Light,

“Bach: Christmas Oratorio” (Decca). These six Christmas-themed cantatas that are joyous as only Bach can be joyous get a vivacious new recording from Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, where Bach lived and worked.

—Mark Swed

Books: “Man, Myth and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance: The Complete Works” (Yale University Press). The authoritative, must-have catalog to the Metropolitan Museum’s majestic exhibition is a primer on complex cross-currents in early-16th century European art history.

—Christopher Knight

DVDs: “Gustavo Dudamel and Juan Diego Flórez: Celebración” (Deutsche Grammophon). Just in time for last- minute Christmas shoppers is the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2010 gala opening-night concert with Dudamel riotous in Rossini overtures and Latin numbers and the Peruvian tenor turning heads. Not a bad choice for New Year’s celebratory music either.

—Mark Swed

Above: Simon Rattle takes a bow with the Berlin Philharmonic during a November concert in Abu Dhabi. Credit: /AFP/Getty Images)