Perhaps he was always the most loved of the famous tenors that blazed a trail across the 20th century but it took a football tournament in 1990 to bring Italy’s Luciano Pavarotti to the masses. With Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo by his side this colossus taught us that classical music came from deep inside and could elicit more emotion than any pop song could ever dare to dream. With Pavaritti bearing down on his goal to master every classical piece ever written it’s surprising he ever found time to fit Christmas in at all. But thankfully he did, the first time in 1976 on a Christmas album called ‘O Holy Night’ which was recorded in London. Over 14 songs Pavarotti was joined at various points by the Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir, the National Philharmonic Orchestra and an adult choir called the London Voices. His song choices took on an international dimension with serial picks ‘O Holy Night’ ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Adeste Fideles’ bolstered by the cherishable Italian carols ‘Gésu Bambino’ and ‘Mille Cherubini In Coro’. In an album without a failing it is difficult to choose a moment that rises above all others but the Latin prayer ‘Panis Angelicus’ comes close. If Christmas is to retain a sense of its sacred beginnings then this one song could win the battle all on its own.
Up until his official Christmas album was released in 1999 there were plenty of opportunities to enjoy Pavarotti's Christmas work. A live release in 1980 (recorded in 1978) called ‘A Christmas Special with Luciano Pavarotti’ features the great man singing at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Montréal with a boys choir called Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal and an adult one named Les Disciples de Massenet. This concert performance, which features a similar track listing to ‘O Holy Night’, has been reissued on several occasions most recently as a DVD/CD package in 2007. Other Christmas live recordings from Luciano have suffered in comparison especially 1997’s 'Christmas With Pavarotti’ which was slammed for its poor production qualities. 1995’s ‘Christmas Favorites from the World's Favorite Tenors’ was an opportunity to jump on the continued popularity of classical music's famous three amigos yet it was a cobbled together affair featuring the best known songs from each but at no point did they sing together.
1999 saw the release of ‘Christmas with Luciano Pavarotti’, the long awaited follow up to ‘O Holy Night’ with Pavarotti again mixing up well known carols such as ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ and ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ with lesser known foreign language works which all sported his magnetic performances. The very same year another compilation album ‘Christmas Favorites with Pavarotti, Carreras & Vienna Boys' Choir’ again sought to ring in the season the classical way. 2000’s ‘Three Tenors Christmas’ brought the famous trio together again in a live setting but this time the location was Vienna with the city's Symphony Orchestra as grand accompaniment. With 21 renditions on show, delivered solo and in tandem, this is perhaps the best live classical album to feature Pavarotti and his friends. This time they broadened their perspective by featuring secular tunes such as ‘White Christmas’, ‘Oh Tannenbaum’ and an interesting if a little odd take on ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’.Author: Kevin