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A Steinway Christmas Album

Anderson / Thompson-jenner / Biegel Release Date: 09/27/2011
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30005 Spars Code: DDD
Composer:  Leroy Anderson ,  Percy Aldridge Grainger ,  Traditional ,  Gregory Sullivan Isaacs  ...  Performer:  Jeffrey Biegel Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins.

It's not surprising that an album that features a Steinway piano as its raison d'être makes sure to mention which particular instrument is being used--none other than a Steinway Model D, a 9-foot concert grand, first-choice of pianists all over the world, often referred to as the "king of pianos", this one residing at the Concert Hall of the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York. The expertly engineered recording shows off the instrument's rich tones, ringing out with Steinway's signature full-bodied, mellifluous sonority. This quality, along with Jeffrey Biegel's lively playing, makes the opening Sleigh Ride sound particularly robust--so much so that you get the initial impression of two Read more artists at two pianos.

This aural magic carries over to the Nutcracker selections, with the Miniature Overture sounding more martial than the orchestral version (even though the arrangement confines itself to the middle registers). The program features a number of clever amalgamations, most notably Ding Dong Merrily on High melded into Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, and Hark! the Herald Angels Sing brilliantly re-imagined as a Beethoven sonata movement.

The album offers a handful of folk songs and carols from the British, German, and Russian traditions (we get two versions of Silent Night), as well as American popular classics, including the evergreen A Christmas Song. Toward the end of the program Biegel presents two new Christmas songs, both tuneful and well suited to the occasion, before concluding the disc with a look toward the new year in a tender rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

Overall, it's a marvelous album that will appeal especially to those who prefer to enjoy the music of the season without the glib commercialism that often gets attached to it. Indeed, the intelligence and artistry are such that you can savor it any time of year. Highly recommended.

– Victor Carr Jr.,

"This is a smartly programmed album that features Christmas favorites and some marvelous arrangements of Christmas tunes. You have to love an album that has music by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, J.S. Bach and Mel Tormé! The arrangements are also outstanding and include some terrific ones by Biegel, particularly his tender take on Ann Hampton Callaway’s gorgeous “Christmas Lullaby.”

If there is any justice in the world Biegel’s effervescent performance of Andrew Gentile’s arrangement of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” becomes the hit Christmas single of the year. Biegel pulls out all the stops, nailing the whip cracking sounds and reveling in a bluesy mid song interlude that’s delightful. Speaking of American Christmas classics, Biegel’s arrangement of Mel Tormé’s beloved “Christmas Song” is marvelous, just schmaltzy enough to touch the heart and just pianistic enough to dazzle the ear. I was not familiar with Stepán Esipoff’s arrangements of music from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker but Biegel plays them brilliantly, especially the celesta-like episodes in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Highbrow keyboard aficionados take note, there’s two marvelous arrangements by Caroline Taylor that stop the show. The first is a brilliant marriage of “Ding Dong! Merrily On High” to Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” and the second fuses “In the Bleak Midwinter” to Liszt’s Un sospiro.

All of this works because there’s nothing Biegel can’t play. His delicate touch weaves elegant filigree around so many of these tunes that I yearn for a Chopin album from him. Pure power is aplenty and he drives many of the more animated sections like he would play the most extroverted Liszt piece. Add Steven Epstein’s clear, clean engineering to the mix and you have what I think is a Christmas classic."

– Craig Zeichner, Ariama

"If you're in the market for another Christmas record this year, you can't go wrong with the one featuring pianist Jeffrey Biegel. "A Steinway Christmas Album," released on the storied piano-maker's own label, manages not only to make a lot of familiar material fresh, the hardest task for any seasonal recording, but also to complement it with unexpected gems... Biegel's technical flair and consistent tastefulness shine throughout the disc."

-- Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

"Hands down, pianist Jeffrey Biegel has the finest Christmas recording of 2011.... The album is concert-hall worthy, a classy addition to any round of holiday gatherings, and a warm and friendly companion to cozy up with in the bleak midwinter."

-– San Francisco Sentinel

Are you tired of choirs singing carols? Here's a novel idea for you: Christmas on the piano. Twenty-one seasonal selections are assembled here on Jeffrey Biegel's A Steinway Christmas Album, most of them arrangements, including a couple by Carolyne M Taylor 'blending holiday standards with classic keyboard themes'. We get Ding Dong Merrily meets Bach's Jesu, Joy, and In the Bleak Midwinter meets Liszt's Un sospiro, respectively. Gregory Sullivan Isaacs does something similar with Away in a Manger and Silent Night, to more ethereal effect. American pianist Jeffrey Biegel's playing of this cleverly planned recital is warm and witty. a refreshing sorbet to the aural palate.

***** 5 stars out of 5 for performance and sound *****

– Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine

"Biegel applies a classical musician's sensibility and technical standards to one familiar tune after another. He makes easy work of Andrew Gentile's dense and technically daunting arrangement of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," making a seemingly simple tune anything but. We hear what program notes describe as "swirls of flurries" and "a mighty shaking-off of snowflakes." Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" is transformed into a grand vehicle able to embrace wholly new material. In the middle of A Steinway Christmas Album, attractive solo-piano arrangements of several "Nutcracker" selections are heard. Biegel imparts them with rhythmic vibrancy and precision. The "Russian Dance" is marked by infectious sparkle. Biegel shows many sides of a multifaceted talent. He jazzes things up nicely in "Christmas is A-Comin'." He plays traditional carols in a way that speaks directly to the heart. And in his attractive arrangement of Ann Hampton Callaway's "Christmas Lullaby," he ornaments the melodic line in intriguing ways." – Ken Keuffel, Winston-Salem Journal
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