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December 15, 2011

One the Record: Jeffrey Biegel's 'A Steinway Christmas Album'

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.

And no trace of lounge act, a potential pitfall when you're making a piano-only collection of Christmas music.

Biegel's technical flair and consistent tastefulness shine throughout the disc.

OK, so maybe his arrangement of "Grown-Up Christmas List" veers occasionally in a Liberace-y direction, but that's pretty easy to forgive in light of his elegant versions of "Christmas Lullaby," and, especially, "The Christmas Song" and "Auld Lang Syne."

The pianist features the work of several other arrangers on the disc. Andrew Gentile's treatment of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" is a remarkably successful example, right down to the neighing horse effect at the end, a pretty neat trick on a keyboard.

Carolyne M. Taylor's mash-up of ...

"Ding Dong! Merrily on High" and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" turns out to be highly effective, too. Taylor's fusion of two other items, "In the Bleak Midwinter" with Liszt's "Un sospiro" is likewise striking.

Another classical allusion comes from arranger Donald Sosin, who cleverly channels Beethoven in a set of variations on "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing."

Filling out the collection are colorful items from Tchaikovsky's "The Seasons" (the lilting waltz "December," of course) and "The Nutcracker." There are also wonderful, off-the-beaten-path pieces by Liszt, Max Reger, Vladimir Rebikov, and Sergei Lyapunov.

And then there's Percy Grainger. The album would be worth having just to hear how eloquently Biegel delivers Grainger's gentle treatment of "The Sussex Mummers' Christmas Carol."

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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