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