How could anyone determined to keep the Grinch from the door pass up a CD titled Just Call Me Happy? Well, it could be Christmas every day of the year if you get yourself a copy of this new Inia Te Wiata collection, a fascinating record of one of our true cultural heroes.
Although the formidable bass-baritone does not give us Jingle Bells or Silent Night, the 49 tracks on the CDs run from Porgy and Bess and Boris Godunov to lieder, drawing-room ballads and Maori chant. A rousing Tarakihi, with guitar accompaniment, is balm to the ears after the bloodless bleat of Elizabeth Marvelly on her debut album.
Wayne Laird has painstakingly restored and, in some cases, rescued these treasures and a bonus DVD has Te Wiata discussing his great pouihi carving.
The indefatigable Laird has been travelling around this year, catching Terence Maskell's Graduate Choir in various venues for its new album A Sound Came from Heaven. The title offering, a short anthem by the late Douglas Mews, shows the refinement and strength of Maskell's 35 singers as they take advantage of the spectacular spaces of Wellington's St Paul's Cathedral.
While New Zealand music is a strong point of the graduate programme, Maskell's choir excels in everything from Victorian madrigals and skittish Schumann to gemutlich Gershwin.
Musica Sacra's Christmas A Cappella II is frankly seasonal and international with it. The only nod to New Zealand is Silent Night sung in Maori and David Griffiths' exquisite setting of Donne's Annunciation.
While the standard carols are full and confident, other tracks like Peter Cornelius' The Three Kings sound overly precious and, quite frankly, out of tune. A disappointment after the choir's previous Christmas set.
It is a brave local pianist who releases an album to coincide with Michael Houstoun's recent and superb Inland double disc. Terence Dennis takes us back to the heady days of Weimar and Bayreuth with his Liszt and Wagner Piano Works. If Liszt's transcription of his son-in-law's March from Rienzi doesn't quite convince on every level from the quality of the piece to a clangorous instrument, the composer's later Venetian pieces reveal Dennis at his most subtle.
Both sailings of La Lugubre Gondola are sinister, mysterious affairs, so much so that even gruff lower registers do not intrude too much.
Most of the Wagner originals are trifles and it is nice to be reminded that the composer of the mighty Parsifal could pen a polka if asked. Schlaflos, written for Mathilde von Wesendonck, draws on deeper emotions and Dennis revels in its Tristanesque suggestions.
It is not difficult to be won over by Gunter Herbig's Hauturu: Where the Winds Rest. On the booklet is a classy Laurence Aberhart image, on the disc solo guitar music by Bach, Villa-Lobos and Rimmer; this is one classy release with an ECM look and sound to it.
Guitar aficionados will appreciate Villa-Lobos' Twelve Etudes where Herbig goes back to the composer's original manuscript, with meltingly beautiful results. A New Zealand work by John Rimmer gives the disc its name, a vision of the bird life of Little Barrier Island, with an explorative score that conscripts the equivalent of bottleneck guitar to sonorous effect.
Finally, let's not overlook Naxos Records who regularly use some of our best musicians to take US and European music back to the source. The latest, a premiere recording of Joseph Martin Kraus' C major Violin Concerto, features Takako Nishizaki with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Uwe Grodd. Despite a neat account of the solo part and infallibly buoyant playing by the NZSO, I remain unconvinced this music is on the same rung as that of his contemporary Mozart, although it was almost impossible to stop toes tapping during the dances from Alzire which end the album.
* Inia Te Wiata: Just Call me Happy (Atoll ACD 507)
* The Graduate Choir: A Sound Came From Heaven (Atoll ACD 407)
* Musica Sacra: Christmas A Cappella II (Atoll ACD 207)
* Kraus: Orchestral Works (Naxos 8.570334)
* Gunter Herbig: Hauturu: Where the Winds Rest (Ode MANU 5016)
* Terence Dennis: Liszt and Wagner Piano Works (Ode MANU 2038)