Personnel: Erich Kunzel & the Cincinnati Pops; King's Singers (vocals); John Pizzarelli, Ann Hampton Callaway, Tierney Sutton, Tony DeSare (vocals).
Audio Mixer: Robert Friedrich.
Liner Note Author: Richard E. Rodda.
Recording information: AJD Studios; G Studios; Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH; Telarc.
Directors: Michael Schwartzkopf; Laurie Wyant.
Editor: Thomas C. Moore .
Photographer: Christian Steiner .
Arrangers: Joseph Price; Steven R. Reineke; James Stephenson; Bruce Healey.
Dubbed the "Prince of Pops" by the Chicago Tribune nearly 30 years ago, Erich Kunzel -- one of the most successful classical crossover artists of all time -- has recorded over 70 albums for Telarc; one of the most popular of those is 1990s Christmas with the Pops. The warm and wonderful Christmastime Is Here, named for the Vince Guaraldi classic from A Charlie Brown Christmas that's given a spirited reworking here, is something of a sequel to that collection. With the exception of a punchy Dixieland arrangement of "Jingle Bell Rock," Kunzel and the orchestra -- working with the Indiana University School of Music Singing Hoosiers, under the direction of Dr. Michael Schwartzkopf -- play most of the classics here very straightforwardly. That is to say, charming, elegant and engaging, just not overly innovative. Telarc's true stroke of genius is having some of its top jazz vocalists perform on lush but smartly restrained arrangements of various classics -- like Tierney Sutton on "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and John Pizzarelli on "Silver Bells." The disc also showcases two of the label's newest artists, Ann Hampton Callaway (a haunting "I Wonder as I Wander") and Tony DeSare (doing Mel Tormé proud on a dreamy version of "The Christmas Song"). This is 2006's premier holiday disc for lovers of jazz, pop and classical music. ~ Jonathan Widran