After the experimentation of Passage, the Carpenters turned completely around and produced this extremely traditional, lush, beautiful Christmas Portrait.
With most of the orchestrations on the album coming from Peter Knight and Billy May, and with the use of full orchestra on almost all the songs, this album doesn't have the same "sound" as most Carpenters' albums, and yet it is totally Carpenters at the same time, simply because it fits Karen's voice perfectly.
The album opens with a solo Richard singing a brief bit of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" a cappella, which leads directly into an orchestral overture incorporating a number of traditional Christmas songs. Richard and the Tom Bahler Chorale have a few vocals during the overture, but no Karen yet.
As "O Come, All Ye Faithful" concludes, Karen finally shows up, coming in with "Frosted windowpanes" as the orchestra almost completely drops out for a moment. At my house, the Christmas season cannot begin until the traditional playing of "The Christmas Waltz." It is a lesser-known, but totally wonderful, song describing the joy and beauty of the Christmas season.
"The Christmas Waltz" leads directly into "Sleigh Ride," which Karen delivers perfectly (and it's not an easy song to sing), which is followed immediately by two more lesser-heard songs, "It's Christmas Time" and "Sleep Well, Little Children."
The rest of the album contains an interesting mix of songs, mostly traditional, but with a few unusual songs tossed in. Several of the more familiar songs are performed with rarely-heard introductions. Some songs are complete, and others are only heard briefly as part of medleys. "Carol of the Bells" is an instrumental, showcasing Richard's piano skills.
The only original song on the album is, of course, the one the Carpenters are most famous for, "Merry Christmas Darling." It was originally recorded in 1970 and was only available as a single for many years. The version on Christmas Portrait, however, is different from the original single version. Karen's voice was not quite mature in 1970, and she wanted to update the song, so the lead vocal was re-recorded and the song remixed in 1978. The original single version can be found on the From the Top collection.
The entire ORIGINAL Christmas Portrait album is not currently available on CD. In fact, the only time the original album in its original mix was available on CD was in the early '80s on a West German CD release. In 1984, the album was released in a "special edition" on CD, adding some of the unreleased songs recorded at the time but not included on the album (and released that same year on An Old-Fashioned Christmas), and leaving off some of the songs from the original album. In 1996, a complete collection of Carpenters' Christmas songs was released as Christmas Collection, but the Christmas Portrait disc in the set has been completely remixed. On the song "Ave Maria," the difference between the original and remixed versions is most clear: the original version of the song has vocals by Karen only, and the remixed version of the song has added backing vocals by the O.K. Chorale (Richard says that the choral parts had been misplaced during the original recording of the song and not discovered until several months later).
In 2001, there was a "remastered" Japanese CD release of Christmas Portrait, with its original album artwork (front and back covers, as well as the inner sleeve with printed lyrics). However, this is not like the other "remastered" versions of the original vinyl LPs -- it is simply a re-packaging of the Christmas Collection as two separate CDs (An Old Fashioned Christmas is also available separately with its original album art now). I had hoped that this new Japanese CD would be the original vinyl mix, but no such luck. In fact, the disc itself says Christmas Collection on it, so this is merely new artwork for the front and back covers...
There were a number of other songs recorded during the Christmas Portrait sessions, and the Carpenters had released another Christmas single in 1974 ("Santa Claus is Coming to Town"), which was not included on this album (the version on this album is not at all the same as the single release). These other songs were completed and released in 1984 as An Old-Fashioned Christmas.
Produced by Richard Carpenter
Associate Producer Karen Carpenter
"Merry Christmas, Darling" / "Mr. Guder" (released in 1970) (didn't chart in the U.S.)
"Christmas Song" / "Merry Christmas, Darling" (released in 1978) (also didn't chart)
Return to the Carpenters Album Index.