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Mormon Tabernacle Choir featuring David Archuleta: Glad Christmas Tidings - Live in Concert Blu-ray Disc Review

Mormon Tabernacle Choir featuring David Archuleta - Glad Christmas Tidings: Live in Concert (2011) Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Glad Christmas Tidings: Live in Concert
Special & DVD Details

Running Time: 66 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Starring Performers: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, Bells on Temple Square, and Christmas Dancers / Special Guests: David Archuleta, Michael York

Organists: Richard Elliott, Clay Christiansen, Andrew Unsworth / Conductors: Mack Wilberg, Ryan Murphy, Thomas Waldron (Bells on Temple Square)

Director: Lee Wessman / Music Director: Mack Wilberg / Associate Music Director: Ryan Murphy / Producer: Edward J. Payne

1.78:1 Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), LCPM 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Blu-ray Release Date: September 6, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50) / Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($24.98 SRP), CD ($18.99 SRP), and MP3 Album

Buy Glad Christmas Tidings from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • DVD • CD • MP3 Album

By Aaron Wallace

2011 was a big year for Mormons. Two of the current candidates for the U.S. Presidency are adherents to the faith. Meanwhile, on Broadway, The Book of Mormon racked up a bundle of Tony Awards and critical acclaim for its pull-no-punches take on the Latter-Day Saints. All the buzz has brought more attention to the religion than we've seen in recent times, its creeds now common fodder for talk-show comics and "Saturday Night Live."

The area in which the secular world is probably most used to hearing about Mormons, however, hasn't changed: Christmas.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has been around since the 1800s and released their first recording in 1910. The 360-member, all-volunteer choir is officially a part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but functions to some extent independently.

Over the years, they've picked up a Grammy and an Emmy, gone Platinum twice and Gold five times, and even hit The Billboard Hot 100 ("The Battle Hymn of the Republic" reached #13 in 1959, breaking the record for the largest group to make the chart). Much of that success came from non-seasonal music, but since the 1950s, and especially in recent years, the choir's made Christmas music a staple of its annual output. Because of that, the group's name immediately triggers the thought of Christmas in my mind, and I suspect that's true for many of those who don't follow their discography.

Their latest release is Glad Christmas Tidings: Live in Concert, issued both as a music album on CD and a concert special on DVD and Blu-ray (the recording is the same for all three, which are each sold separately). The production finds the Choir coming together with pop star David Archuleta, thespian Michael York, and the Orchestra at Temple Square (also an entity of the Mormon Church).

David Archuleta sings with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during their annual Christmas concert.

The live event can be best described as a holiday concert, though it frequently flirts with the conventions of a stage show. The Tabernacle Choir takes a few songs on its own, but the star of the show is "American Idol" alum Archuleta, whose near-perfect pitch, tone, and range are especially well suited for grandiose Christmas music. He helms a mix of traditional and unfamiliar-but-traditional-sounding songs, always accompanied by the Choir and the Orchestra in the background, his voice especially soaring on "Joy to the World."

Throughout the program, costumed dancers spritely make their way to the stage for impressively festive and synchronous performances that do wonders for ratcheting up the atmosphere of merriment inside the Temple Square in Salt Lake City, where this event was recorded in 2010. The evening's tone is classy, formal, and reverent. Archuleta appears in a tuxedo, for example, and the theater decorations are regal and tasteful.

York doesn't join the proceedings until near their end, when he narrates a mostly spoken-word piece called "Sing, Choirs of Angels!" An ode to the history of the Choir, this is the one and only moment of the whole recording that will feel less than accessible to the non-Mormons in the audience, though York's stately voice is at least compelling in the delivery. (Interestingly, while Archuleta is an outspoken Mormon, York isn't a member of the faith at all). Shortly thereafter, he returns to join Archuleta and all the backers in an encore to the grand finale, "Angels, from the Realms of Glory."

Michael York narrates "Christmas With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square." The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform at their annual Christmas concert, titled "Christmas With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square."

Aside from "Silent Night," which uses the same arrangement as his own recording of it, there is almost no overlap between this and Archuleta's excellent 2009 album, Christmas from the Heart. That makes this an attractive release for the young singer's sizable fan base, which will be as likely to buy this as the Choir's presumably much older following.
Its release actually comes at an interesting time, as perhaps the last thing we'll see from Archuleta before he embarks on a two-year Mormon mission. His announcement last month of that religious endeavor came as a surprise to just about everyone, as it will take him away from both his music career and the public eye until its completion.

The Glad Christmas Tidings setlist is as follows:

1. Processional: "A Christmas Roundelay"
2. "Joy to the World" (with Archuleta)
3. "The Cat and the Mouse Carol" (with Archuleta)
4. "Gloria in excelsis" from Mozart's Mass in C Minor, K. 421
5. "Gesϊ bambino" (with Archuleta)
6. "Ring Out, Ye Crystal Spheres" from Hodie
7. "Los pastores a belιn" (with Archuleta)
8. "Silent Night" (with Archuleta)
9. "Three Dancing Carols"
10. "A Holiday Hoedown for Organ (Deck Them Halls)" (solo by organist Richard Elliott)
11. "Sing, Choirs of Angels!" (with York)
12. "Away in a Manger"
13. "Luke 2: The Christmas Story" (with York)
14. "Angels, from the Realms of Glory" (with Archuleta)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided me with a review copy of the Blu-ray. Meanwhile, I purchased the CD myself. This review concerns only the former, but I will say that the nature of the recording does not particularly lend itself to an audio-only experience. If you're going to make Glad Christmas Tidings part of your Christmas tradition, as I now plan to, the Blu-ray is the best way to do it.

Watch a clip from Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Glad Christmas Tidings:

VIDEO and AUDIO

The 1.78:1, 1080p transfer is near-perfect. Clarity is simply astounding. From sparkles on far-away dresses to the lining on Archuleta's suit, seemingly every aspect of the theater's material existence is exceedingly and crystal-clearly visible. Blacks are deep, colors are rich, and contrast is excellent. There are fleeting instances of the moirι effect, most apparent in far shots of the organ pipes, but that is the only detectable imperfection in the entire presentation. Otherwise, the transfer is eye-popping and reference quality. Much to my surprise, this is one of the best-looking Blu-rays I've ever seen.

The primary audio track is in Dolby Digital 5.1. While you'll need to turn the volume to a higher level than usual,
the sound is otherwise fantastic. There is a definite bias in favor of the front channels, but the rear support mostly holds its own. Overall, the audio is quite full, clear, and immersive.

An LCPM stereo track is available too. It sounds fine and allows you to keep your receiver at its ordinary volume level, but ultimately lacks the presence of the more impressive 5.1 mix. Subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are also included, covering both lyrics and spoken word.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The disc's Backstage menu includes two bonus features. The first is "Backstage with David Archuleta" (5:33, HD), in which the vocalist describes what a personal honor performing with the Tabernacle Choir is for him, having once thought he'd like to be a part of it. He then goes on to compare this experience to "American Idol" and to reflect on the support he receives from the Lord in performing Christmas music. This featurette also includes a brief glimpse of the Choir's 2006 concert with Norwegian vocalist Sissel in HD (perhaps an indication that the Choir will release others of its holiday specials to Blu-ray, which would hopefully include Angela Lansbury's, now out of print on DVD).

"Backstage with Michael York" (5:09, HD) finds the star of stage and screen reminiscing about the Christmases he's spent all around the world, comparing those to the one he'd planned for this year, and elaborating on the majesty of the Tabernacle Square performance center.

Both bonus features are a nice touch for a disc that probably could have gotten by without including anything extra at all. The menu is nicely designed too, with just a bit of animation and a montage of performance clips playing in the center of the screen. Interestingly, the interfacing functions like a DVD's would, with submenus getting their own screens, all of which also feature video and sound. There's a "Musical Selections" screen for quick access to specific songs.

The disc is housed inside a standard blue keepcase. Inside is a two-sided flyer advertising the CD counterpart and two other Tabernacle Choir albums.

Dancers performing during "Christmas With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I admit that I didn't expect much out of Glad Christmas Tidings. Happily, it's much more than the standard, church-style Christmas concert I had foreseen. While the number of unfamiliar songs will likely turn away some prospective consumers, most of the more foreign numbers are as likeable as the obligatory standards. David Archuleta's singing voice is one of the best of his generation, and it's put to full and exuberant use here.

With impressive production values and one of the best hi-def transfers in my entire Blu-ray collection, this is a top-notch release. Elegant and refined, yet also joyous and festive, the performances are beautiful and filled with the Christmas spirit, ensuring that I'll be revisiting it for many Christmases to come.

Buy Glad Christmas Tidings from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / CD / MP3 Album

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Related Reviews:
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Christmas Blu-rays:
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Famous Mormons:
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Ricky Schroder: Silver Spoons: The Complete First Season | Johnny Whitaker & Billy Barty: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Season One

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Reviewed January 7, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images are publicity stills and not Blu-ray screencaps.
Copyright 2011 Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Music & the Spoken Word, and KUED 7 Channel 7 The University of Utah. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.