Aside from George Winston's "December" and Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas,” there have been very few solo piano Christmas albums in modern times. Even fewer come in a classical vein. Long Island pianist Jeffrey Biegel capably fills some of the void with "A Steinway Christmas Album," a collection of 21 glowing arrangements of time-honored carols, beloved winter melodies and evocative new works.
As the title suggests, this is the latest release on the Steinway & Sons recording label, which was launched in October 2010 with Biegel playing Bach. He opens this, his follow-up release, with Andrew Gentile's pianistic arrangement of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” complete with big octaves and stride flourishes in the final chorus. The traditional carols that follow include “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and “Silent Night,” the latter in two strikingly different arrangements.
Indeed, this is an arrangers' disc through and through. One clever arrangement combines “Ding Dong Merrily On High” with Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Another, called “Quiet Night,” melds “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night” in a haunting, Ivesian fashion. Donald Sosin’s arrangement of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is brilliantly re-imagined as a Beethoven sonata movement.
Not to be overlooked are excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and The Seasons, Max Reger’s op. 17 Weinachtstraum, Franz Liszt’s The Sheperds at the Manger, and a haunting waltz, Yolka, Vladimir Rebikov. A handful of international songs (Svyatki’s Fêtes de Noël) and Biegel’s own arrangements -- including Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song” and “Auld Lang Syne” -- are part of the celebration too.
For a musical season that sometimes gravitates to bombastic excess, Biegel’s album is a welcome dose of straightforwardness. A collectible Christmas tree ornament rounds out the package.
Listen: Jeffrey Biegel tells host Jeff Spurgeon how Facebook played a role in the album:
A Steinway Christmas Album
Jeffrey Biegel, piano
Steinway & Sons
Available at Arkivmusic.com